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The Day the Music Died

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Isaac had just flipped over the sign on the door to closed and turned off the light when he heard a gentle rapping on the glass door. He sighed and shook his head. It never failed every night; there was someone who came by just as the record store was closing, for some apparent music-related emergency.

It also never failed that one of the other clerks took pity on these tardy souls, but not tonight - not on Isaac’s watch.

Isaac continued walking to the back of the store.

Another louder knock followed.

“Isaac!”

Isaac definitely recognized that voice. He grinned briefly before he turned around and plastered on a fake, annoyed scowl.

He walked over and crossed his arms in front of his chest as he looked at his best friend Scott, who held up a bag and smiled.

Isaac cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, sir. Hale Records closes at midnight. You’re just going to have to wait until the morning to fulfill your Backstreet Boys needs.”

“Come on, dude, open up.” Scott chuckled and nodded towards the lock.

Isaac rolled his eyes dramatically and opened the door. As Scott started to go inside, Isaac put a hand on his chest. “You can’t come in.”

“Why not?”

“You know Derek’s rules. No friends allowed when we’re closing,” Isaac explained even though he knew Scott of all people knew their boss’ rules backwards and forwards.

“That doesn’t count for me. I work here,” Scott countered. He tried to get by again and Isaac blocked his path.

“Isaac!”

“Scott,” Isaac said in a mocking tone.

“Derek would not have a problem with me being here.” It took a lot to get Scott mad, but Isaac could see a vein begin to throb in his forehead as Scott took a step back.

“Yeah, well I have a problem with you being here.” Isaac pointed to his chest. He hated the hurt look that flashed over Scott’s face. Isaac sighed. “I know what you’re doing, okay. You’re checking up on me, which I get it, but I’m fine. I can handle it.”

“I wasn’t checking up on you.” Scott didn’t look upset anymore, but he still hesitated at the door.

Isaac leaned his head to the side and gave him a skeptical look.

“Okay, fine, I was checking up on you a little. But I did think you might like some company.” Scott ran his hand through his shaggy hair.

“That would be great, but maybe some other night. I want to do this alone.” Normally, Scott would be right. Isaac loved spending time with Scott, but he had something to prove tonight and he had to do it on his own. Plus, Isaac already had a pit in his stomach the size of Texas and being around Scott probably wouldn’t help his nerves.

Derek was finally letting him close the store for the first time in months. It had been a rough couple of months for Isaac and his former guardian. They’d been through a lot and for Derek to trust him like this meant a lot to Isaac. He was determined not to let him down.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Scott, Derek’s rules are so simple even a monkey could follow them. How could even I screw it up?”

Isaac appreciated that Scott only winced slightly at that. Erica or Stiles would have probably laughed in his face and then proceeded to list all of Isaac’s past issues and just exactly how this could turn into an epic disaster.

He couldn’t really blame them for their inherent skepticism when it came to him. If there was anything Isaac did with any kind of consistency, it was screw-up. And Derek knew that better than anyone.

“All I have to do is count the money and deposit it. I conquered basic math skills in the first grade and just in case you haven’t heard there’s this new invention called a calculator that can help with that, too,” Isaac said. He couldn’t help being somewhat defensive.

“Yeah, but there’s also-”

“I know,” Isaac interrupted him. “I have to keep my hands off of his beer, cigars, and drumsticks. Scott, you know I don’t have a musical bone in my body, I hate the taste of beer, and I threw up the first time I tried one of his cigars. Trust me it’s not an experience I want to repeat.” He grabbed Scott’s shoulders. “I. Have. It. Covered.”

Scott looked up at him briefly before he held up his hands in mock surrender. “Alright, fine, I’ll go.” He turned to leave, but quickly turned back. “But if you need anything-”

“I think I can remember your number, Scott.” Isaac assured him.

Scott nodded slowly and began to leave again.

“Hey, what’s in the bag?” Isaac called back to him and gestured to the brown bag in Scott’s hand.

“Oh, right I almost forgot.” Scott lightly hit his head. “Mom made some brownies for you.” He handed the bag to Isaac.

“Oooh, special brownies?” Isaac opened up the bag.

“Yeah, my mom made pot brownies,” Scott scoffed.

“One of these days, it’s gonna happen.” Isaac inhaled the smell of the sweet brownies.

Scott just closed his eyes and chuckled slightly. “Yeah, you hold on that fantasy.” He walked back to his motorcycle and hopped on. Before he put on his helmet, he gazed up at Isaac. “I know you can do this.”

Isaac stood at the door and watched Scott leave. He hoped Scott was right.

He put on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Diary of a Madman” over the loudspeaker and set to work.

After counting the money twice - $9104 - he started to put it away in the money pouch and was just about to put it away when something in Derek’s desk caught his eye. It’s some kind of contract. Isaac knew it’s probably none of his business, but while he’s trying to turn over a new leaf and be more responsible, it didn’t mean he’s a saint. Isaac had never been able to let his curiosity go unanswered.

Isaac wrinkled his nose as he looked down at the offending name of Music Town Records, a watered down, generic, cash-grubbing, and soulless music giant - that had thankfully never invaded the town of Beacon Hills. Not yet.

“Music Town franchise option agreement,” Isaac read the top of the contract. That didn’t make any sense. Isaac looked further into Derek’s desk and pulled out a picture of the front of Hale Records. Behind the picture was a clear plastic acetate sheet with the Music Town logo and store front in the center. When Isaac put the acetate over the picture of Hale Records, the Music Town sign perfectly covered up the Hale Records one.

It all became clear to Isaac and he dropped the papers as if they were burning his fingers. He shook his head. They couldn’t sell Hale’s. Derek would never allow that.

Everyone in Derek’s family wanted nothing to do with the business after Derek’s mother, and the former owner, Talia Hale had died. Everyone had wanted to sell it. But Derek knew how important it had been to his mother, and how important it had still been to him. Derek had made it his life’s mission to keep the store in the family and make it a success. Derek wouldn’t throw it away, especially not to some corporate behemoth like Music Town. Derek wouldn’t do that to his mother’s legacy and he certainly wouldn’t do it to everyone who worked there now.

Isaac knew he needed to talk to Derek about this, but given that talking wasn’t Derek’s best event, Isaac wasn’t sure if that would accomplish much. Derek would never listen to him anyway.

Isaac slowly dragged a hand through his curly-hair. He looked down at the money still on the desk and then at the Music Town contract that had landed on the floor.

Without thinking any further, he grabbed the money and stuffed it in his jacket pocket. “In the immortal words of The Doors, “the time to hesitate is through.”” He marched out the door and prepared to do the most insane thing he had ever attempted - and that was saying something. He would either come back a hero or...Isaac shuddered to think what would happen if things went wrong.

~*~

“I still can’t believe he would do something so stupid,” Stiles said emphatically as Scott only half-listened. “He’s got to be the biggest bonehead on the planet. How do you quit a band as awesome as Van Halen?”

Scott half smirked at his best friend. He didn’t realize it was time for Stiles’ yearly David Lee Roth rant. Scott had been listening to Stiles rant about this since they were ten years old. He had to admire how passionate his friend got about all things music related.

Normally he would placate Stiles and say “uh huh” in all the right places, but right now he was distracted. Isaac hadn’t come home last night and Scott had no idea where he could be.

Isaac had been living with Scott and his mom since Derek had kicked him out four months ago and Isaac had never stayed out like this, at least not without calling.

“Do you think I should call the police?” Scott interrupted Stiles.

“On David Lee Roth?” Stiles scratched his chin. “It was a pretty dumb decision, but I don’t think he could be arrested for it. I could ask my dad about some kind of crimes against humanity law given that eyesore wardrobe of his.”

“Not on David Lee Roth,” Scott rolled his eyes. “Should I call them about Isaac? He’s been gone all night.”

“And this is breaking news because…?” Stiles raised his eyebrows as he waited for Scott’s response.

Scott didn’t say anything, just sighed heavily. Stiles parked his Jeep and shut the engine off. It sputtered for a few seconds before shutting off fully. Scott was always sure that car was on its last legs and would die at any moment, though he’d been saying that since Stiles had received the car on his sixteenth birthday and it hadn’t died yet.

“What if Isaac’s hurt?” They got out of the car and started to walk to Hale Records.

Stiles shook his head and continued to walk towards the store. “I doubt it. Isaac knows how to take care of himself, Scott. Or did you forget who he’s been living with for the last five years?” Stiles patted Scott gently on the shoulder. “This isn’t his first all-night adventure and it won’t be his last. You don’t have to act like his dad.”

“I’m not acting like his dad. I’m just worried. You act like you don’t like him, but I know you care too, Stiles. He could be anywhere. He could be in trouble or lying down face down in a ditch.”

“Or lying face down in an alley.” Stiles stopped in his tracks.

Scott swatted Stiles on the arm. “That’s not very helpful. Why would you…” He trailed off as he looked over to where Stiles was staring at.

Lying face down on top of his motorcycle with a tuft of curly hair sticking out of the back of a black wool cap, in the alley between Hale Records and its next door neighbor, was Isaac.

Scott and Stiles looked at each other before walking over to their friend. Scott poked him gently. Isaac mumbled something, but didn’t poke his head up.

“I think Isaac may have gotten his job assignment mixed up. He was supposed to close the store last night, not guard it. What’s he still doing here?”

“I don’t know.” Scott shrugged. He shook Isaac’s shoulder with more force. “Isaac?”

“Do you think he died?”

“No, he’s still breathing.” Scott looked over at Stiles and furrowed his brow. “And try not to sound too excited at the prospect of our friend’s imminent death.”

“He’s your friend, not mine.” Stiles tapped Scott’s shoulder and smiled when his friend spared him a brief glance. “Imminent?”

“Word of the day.” Scott grinned.

Scott returned his attention to Isaac. “Isaac!”

Nothing.

He was starting to revisit Stiles’ dead Isaac suggestion, when Isaac suddenly sprang.

Scott and Stiles almost jumped out of their skin.

“Is it just me or are the drinks in Vegas much stronger than they need to be?” Isaac cradled his head.

“Las Vegas?” Stiles crossed his arms in front of his chest and glared down at Isaac.

“Yeah.” Isaac sat up fully and wiped the crusts from his eyes.

“You went to Vegas?” Scott wasn’t expecting that, but you could never know what to expect with Isaac, so very little he did truly surprised him. “Did you win anything?”

Isaac looked between the two of them and just put on his sunglasses without answering.

“Isaac?” Scott prodded him.

“Something tells me you got your ass handed to you in Vegas. Am I right?” Stiles asked.

“That would have been preferable to what happened.” Isaac started up his bike. “If you guys ever wondered if it was nice to know you…” He pointedly turned to Scott. “I tell you now, it was.”

“Shit, Isaac, what happened?” Scott was really starting to worry.

Isaac gave Scott a half grin and took off. “I do not regret the things I did, but those I did not do!”

Scott tried not to choke on the exhaust fumes and dust as Stiles and he gave chase.

“Isaac, how much?” Stiles shouted after him. “How much?”

Scott wasn’t sure what exactly had happened, but he definitely knew it wasn’t good.

Stiles clapped Scott on the shoulder. “So what do you think the over/under is on whether Derek kills Isaac with his bare hands?”

“Derek?” Scott looked at Stiles blankly.

Stiles threw his hands out in front of him and gave Scott his best ‘duh’ face. “Isaac doesn’t have any money and Derek let him close the store last night.”

“Shit!” Scott threw his head back and groaned.

“Yeah, he certainly did not live up to the responsibility of the position.”

“You think?” Scott said as he looked off in the direction that Isaac had gone. He heard a car coming from behind them and when he turned around, he went stock still. “Shut up, shut up, shut up.”

Stiles followed his gaze and grinned. “Come on, place your bets now while there’s still time. Strangulation in the break room, dismemberment in the alley...Personally, I’m going with poisoning. That way the death is long and drawn out- oof!” Stiles groaned when Scott elbowed him in the stomach.

Derek got out of his car and if it were at all possible, he looked even more pissed off than usual, though his dress for the day was somewhat different. He still had on his leather jacket, but instead of his usual t-shirt, he had on a white button-down and a tie. He looked like a substitute teacher from a sitcom who was trying way too hard.

Stiles looked like Christmas had come early. Scott was grateful for the distraction.

As Derek strode past him, Stiles walked behind him. “What’s up with the boss threads, man? Finally got that second job as a bible salesman? Wait...a cool bible salesman.”

Derek just shot him a withering look. “Freakin’ Jackson Whittemore day.”

No one that worked at Hale Records had much use for Jackson Whittemore’s music. Actually, Lydia and Allison seemed to enjoy his music, but Scott and Stiles assumed they were blinded by the pretty and were giddy over the fact that Jackson had gone to high school with most of them.

“What’s up with the hostility, man?” Stiles asked as Derek held the door open.

Scott and Stiles started to hum the singer’s obnoxious latest tune.

“Say no more, mon amour!” Scott sang as he breezed past Derek.

“Lips are for kissing, baby! Je t’adore, mwah!” Stiles actually had the balls to press a kiss to his fingers and press it to his boss’s cheek as he walked by.

Stiles looked over his shoulder and other than pursing his lips into an even thinner line, Derek didn’t make any moves to kill him, so Stiles let out a little sigh of relief.

They were immediately greeted with the sounds of ringing phones.

“Stiles!” Derek yelled.

“What?”

Derek glared in the direction of the phone.

“Oh, right.”

As Stiles went to answer the phone, Scott made a beeline for the backroom. He had a feeling he knew who was on the other end of that call. He sat down and tried to practice his best clueless idiot expression. Some would say he’d been mastering it for years, but Scott didn’t want to take any chances. He didn’t want to let on that he knew anything.

He sighed and pressed his head to the table. He didn’t know what Isaac was thinking. Isaac was many things, but a thief wasn’t one of them. He had to have a good reason to do what he did.

Scott popped his head up when he heard someone come in. It was just Stiles. Stiles shot him a look and he knew that shit was definitely about to hit the fan.

Stiles scrambled over the couch and picked up a magazine just to have something to do.

Scott searched desperately in front of him and picked up a yellow marker to “work” on some of his art.

Derek marched past both of them without a word.

Stiles and Scott shared a look and after a few minutes heard their boss’s deafening curse. “Fuck! ISAAC!”

Scott winced.

“Yep.” Stiles nodded. “Definitely poisoning.”

Scott groaned and looked heavenward. He decided to say a little prayer for Isaac because Stiles was probably right. Isaac was most certainly a dead man.

~*~

Allison wasn’t put off by Lydia’s incessant honking outside. She continued to hum as she grabbed her bag and her cupcakes and glided out the door. This was going to be the best day no matter what.

“Happy Jackson Whittemore day!” Allison sang as she ran to Lydia’s car and then handed her a cupcake.

“When did you have time to make these?” Lydia just shook her head and smiled reluctantly.

“Now mom says there are 24 useable hours in every day.”

Lydia smirked as Allison got in and put her seat belt on. “Sounds like your mom all right. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as scarily efficient as her or just plain scary.” She pulled away from the curb.

“That’s mom.” Allison nodded and her smile faltered slightly.

Lydia turned briefly to look at Allison and squeezed her knee. She grinned before turning to face the road again. “So?”

“So?” Allison played coy for a minute.

“Allison?”

Allison giggled. She pulled out her old yearbook and flipped to the page with Jackson Whittemore’s senior picture. Allison was embarrassed to admit that she’d drawn hearts around it, though in her defense she’d done that a few years ago when they were freshman.

Jackson had been a senior and Allison a freshman. Jackson had been the most popular boy in school and Allison had a crush on him the second she laid eyes on him. After he graduated, Allison had learned to move on, namely with Scott, but her crush on him had never truly died.

It wasn’t just that he was gorgeous and that she genuinely liked his music, even if it was bubblegum pop. Jackson represented the real prospect of getting out of Beacon Hills and actually doing something important with your life.

“Today I have decided to offer myself to Jackson Whittemore.” Allison groaned. “Oh, God it sounds so cheesy when I say it out loud.”

Lydia looked like she wanted to disagree, but couldn’t. She laughed. “Cheesy or not, I think you could do a lot worse than lose your virginity to Jackson Whittemore.”

“Really?”

Lydia nodded.

Allison sighed and kissed Jackson’s picture.

“Oh come on, you’re not even trying,” Lydia sighed in disgust. She grabbed the book from Allison and licked Jackson’s picture obscenely.

“Get your tongue off of my yearbook.” Allison laughed and ripped the yearbook back.

They both giggled as Allison clutched the yearbook to her chest.

~*~

Derek clutched his drumsticks and felt like he was on the razor’s edge. He’d never been known for having much patience. When he was younger his mother learned to stop playing peek-a-boo with him because he would always growl and get annoyed by the second time she hid her face.

It had been something he had been trying to work on. When your ex-girlfriend leaves you at gunpoint, you learn to start to re-evaluate some things and make some changes. He’d even tried meditating to help him become a calmer person.

Right now, he was doing every meditation trick in the book to keep from ripping the phone from the wall and heaving it across the room. He beat the drumstick against the back of his neck, as the dial tone droned on. “Come on! Pick up the phone, dickhead!” Derek screamed.

He slammed the receiver down and squeezed his hands into a ball and placed his head on top. He couldn’t believe Isaac would do this to him. Back when Isaac first moved in with Derek, whenever Derek would yell at Isaac over something, Isaac would pack a bag and wait for Derek to send him away. Derek thought Isaac had grown out of that behavior.

He knew that things were definitely strained after he had kicked Isaac out. But he thought they’d gotten past their troubles. If he’d thought Isaac held a grudge over it, Derek would have never let him close the store.

Even if Isaac were angry with him, this wasn’t like him. Isaac wasn’t a thief. Derek wanted to find Isaac and question him. He wanted to find Isaac and throttle him. He’d put him in an incredibly hard position. What the hell was he supposed to tell the bank? What was he supposed to tell his dick of an uncle?

He’d been trying to keep Isaac out of jail for years. How could he be the one to finally put him there?

“Screw it.” Derek sat up and took a deep breath. He took a paper weight and hurled it across the room.

~*~

“Hale Records, open ‘til midnight, this is Stiles.” A pause and then Stiles gave the mightiest eye roll in the history of the world. “It’s short for...You know I really don’t want to get into that right now. Do you have a music related question?” Stiles perked up a little. “Yes, we do still sell vinyl.” Stiles cracked his knuckles and prepared to give a speech about why vinyl was the superior way to hear music.

He had to cut his speech short because after five minutes he could see Derek glaring at him through the glass from his office.

As he hung up, Scott walked toward him. He was wringing his hands and Stiles could tell he was torn up about something.

“What are we going to do about this Isaac/Derek money situation?”

Stiles refrained from rolling his eyes. He genuinely loved how big-hearted his best friend was, but sometimes he really did not see the forest for the trees. “We aren’t doing anything about it. This is between Derek and Isaac. And given that we’re both still living at home two years after graduation, neither of us has thousands of dollars of disposable income.”

“We can’t just do nothing.” Scott shrugged helplessly. He looked over at Derek’s office, where Derek had now begun to pace. “I know that it tears you up to see Derek so twisted up inside.”

“If it tore me up to see Derek twisted up, I wouldn’t be able to function on a daily basis. Derek’s permanent mood is set to crotchety grandpa.”

“This is different.” Scott looked skeptical.

Stile sighed. He knew that Scott had a point. A betrayal like this would hit anyone hard. Derek didn’t like to show that he had a softer side, but Stiles knew how much Derek cared about Isaac.

But Stiles had been trying to take control of his going nowhere crush on Derek and getting caught up in this situation and trying to gauge Derek’s mood and come up with ways to cheer him up would not help with that.

Stiles decided to try and distract Scott. “Don’t you have more pressing concerns right now?”

“What could be more important than this?” Scott furrowed his brow and looked baffled.

“Oh, I don’t know.” Stiles looked down at his watch. “It’s almost ten and Lydia and Allison will probably be here soon. Aren’t you supposed to start on your campaign to win Allison back today?”

“Oh, my God I almost forgot.” Scott’s face suddenly became ashen and his breathing started to become shallower.

They heard a car door slam and Scott almost jumped out of his skin.

Stiles ran to the window and smiled as he looked outside. He turned back to Scott. “It’s not them.”

Scott sighed in relief.

Stiles went over to him and put one arm around Scott’s shoulder. “Why don’t you go back to Derek’s office and ask him some advice?”

“I don’t know.” Scott bit his bottom lip. “I think Derek would rather gouge out his own eyeballs than hear about our love lives. And that’s on a good day.”

“But this is the best time to talk to him. He’s too mad at Isaac to really get upset about something like this. Plus, he probably needs the distraction.”

Scott nodded slowly. “That makes sense.” Scott stepped back and grinned at Stiles. “Are you sure you don’t want to join me in taking this romantic leap? I tell Allison how I feel and you tell Derek…”

“No way, man.” Stiles shook his head vehemently. “You actually have a shot with Allison. I know where I stand with Derek and that’s...fine.”

Scott gripped Stiles’ shoulder and smiled sympathetically before he headed to Derek’s office.

Before he could wallow in lovelorn misery, another litany of phone calls rang throughout the quiet store. “Hale Records, open ‘til Midnight. This is Stiles.” A pause and then Stiles pinched the bridge of his nose. “Midnight.” He repeated with forced patience.

~*~

Scott nervously approached Derek as he was ransacking the backroom. Scott had no idea what Derek was looking for. “Derek?”

Derek grumbled as he continued his search. He didn’t acknowledge Scott’s presence.

“Derek?” Scott said a bit louder.

Derek whirled around to face him. “What?” He said with icy steel to his voice that was somehow scarier than when he screamed.

But Scott soldiered on. “I need to ask your advice about something.”

“Why not? It’s not like there’s anything major going on right now,” Derek said with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

“I know, I know, but this is kind of important, too. The fate of my romantic future is riding on today,” Scott said knowing how melodramatic it sounded.

But that got Derek’s attention. “What is it?”

“You know a lot about women, right?”

“Sure,” Derek laughed bitterly. “My first girlfriend was using me to get to my uncle and my second girlfriend left me at gunpoint. Does this qualify me?”

Scott thought about it for a second. “No. But desperate times…”

Derek rolled his eyes and motioned for Scott to get on with it.

“I decided I’m going to tell Allison that I still love her and I want her back.”

“Uh huh.”

“Deciding to break up with Allison was the dumbest decision I ever made,” Scott lamented.

“Didn’t she break up with you?” Derek stopped his frantic movements and furrowed his brow.

“Yes, but I didn’t fight hard enough for her. I wanted to be nice and be respectful of her decision. But that’s over now,” Scott said with conviction.

“So you’re not going to be nice or respectful anymore?” Derek teased, grinning slightly.

“Right,” Scott declared. Derek gave him a second. “Wait, no! I didn’t mean it like that. Just it’s been a year since we broke-up and we’ve had time to live separate lives. I’ve seen what’s out there and it doesn’t get better than her. So I have to tell her how I feel. I have to tell her…”

“That you love her?” Derek looked over his shoulder.

“Right....So how do I do that?” Scott wiped his sweaty palms against his pants.

“You say I love you.” Derek moved past him. “What do you want written instructions?”

Scott nodded to himself. Derek was right. He could think of something himself. This was too important to leave it up to someone else. Scott followed after Derek and smiled. “Okay. I’m going to do it. By noon.” Scott’s smile faltered. “By noon or one.” His brow furrowed, but then he brightened again. “By 1:37 exactly.” He nodded rapidly.

Derek turned to him and said sincerely, “That’s great. I’m happy for you.” He patted Scott on the shoulder.

Derek didn’t let his warm and fuzzy side show up often, but when he did it always reminded Scott of why he always defended Derek when people made fun of him for being a surly jerk.

Scott walked to the front counter with an extra pep in his step, but when he turned and looked at the clock, his nerves began to overtake him again. Allison would be here soon and he wasn’t sure if he could keep his cool around her and not spill everything. For a brief moment, he was glad that they had this issue with Isaac to focus on.

Thinking about Isaac made Scott’s stomach tie in knots again. Isaac had really gotten himself in trouble now and he wasn’t sure how to help him.

~*~

Lydia parked in front of the store and they waited a few seconds for the song to finish before Lydia cut out the engine. It was Jackson Whittemore’s song “Don’t Be Sad, Girl.”

“Don’t be sad girl,” Lydia and Allison sang alone. “You’re not a sad…

“Bad...” Lydia said simultaneously.

They both laughed.

“‘I’m pretty sure he says ‘sad’ there,” Allison corrected Lydia.

“Well, you would know.” Lydia turned off the engine. “You’ve listened to this album, what, only a million times?”

“Million and one actually.” Allison grinned as she closed the car door.

They giggled again as they headed to the front door. Before they could open it, Scott hurried out.

“Oh, man I have to talk to guys,” Scott said in a rush.

“Happy five year anniversary.” Allison opened her box of cupcakes and presented one triumphantly to Scott.

“You remembered.” Scott smiled broadly.

“You’ve been working here for five years. I think that’s a pretty important event to remember, don’t you?” She looked at Lydia.

Lydia nodded. They headed toward the back of the building.

Scott took a huge bite of his cupcake and gave Allison thumbs up.

Allison looked at him fondly. Scott really was one of the greatest guys. People always wondered what the hell she was thinking when she broke up with him. Sometimes she even wondered it. There was no denying that Scott had been the perfect boyfriend.

But Allison was so young. She didn’t want to be tied down like that and there was a small part of her that felt something was missing between them. She could never pinpoint what that something was, but Allison knew there was something off and didn’t regret her decision to end things, except sometimes, when, like now, Scott would look at her like she was the most important person on the planet.

Scott was the one person in her life that didn’t pressure her for anything, he didn’t make demands, and being around him was so easy.

“That was great, but I’ve really got something important to tell you two.” Scott opened the pink box and put the half eaten cupcake away.

Lydia ignored him as they got to the back of the store. “Hey, Boyd!”

“Boyd!” Allison called for as well.

Boyd was a musician that worked part-time at Hale Records. He was somewhat of a loner and he worked for much cheaper than everyone else because Derek let Boyd stay at the one room hole in the wall occupied in the back of the store. His rent was docked from his paycheck.

Boyd stuck his head out of his lop-sided door and rubbed at his eyes.

“Hey, did you guys hear me?” Scott walked in front of the girls.

“Allison made cupcakes. Do you want some?” Lydia called to Boyd.

“They’re free!” Allison chimed in.

“If I could have just a little attention, please!” Scott yelled.

Lydia and Allison stopped immediately. Scott didn’t yell often. They knew something major must have happened.

“Thank you.” Scott sighed.

As Scott began to tell them what happened with Isaac in Vegas, Allison and Lydia both wore matching shocked expressions. After Scott finished they turned to each other with their mouths open.

Allison knew that Isaac had made his share of mistakes in the past, but she never thought he would do something like this. As she looked at Scott, she frowned. She could tell how much this situation was upsetting Scott. She knew how much Scott cared about Isaac. She had always thought the way Scott took his friend’s problems on as if they were his own was kind of sweet. But the look on his face now was anything but sweet. She swore she could strangle Isaac right now.

As they walked into the store, Allison looked warily over to Derek’s office and saw Derek pacing. “Does Derek know?” She whispered to Scott.

Scott shook his head.

Allison plastered on a fake smile, which she had gotten considerably good at dealing with her parents. “Hey, Derek!”

Lydia waved. Derek just grunted and got up and shut the blinds roughly.

“Okay…” Lydia and Allison exchanged another look.

“So, what are we supposed to do?” Allison asked anxiously.

“Just act normal,” Stiles advised.

“I can handle that.” Lydia smiled. She ran behind the front counter and got out a box of M&M’s.

Allison, Scott, and Stiles lined up as Lydia closed her eyes and deposited an M&M in each of their hands.

To decide who had control of the music first, all but one of them would get an M&M, and whoever didn’t get one (whoever’s turn it was to sit out the rotation) would choose an M&M randomly, and whoever’s M&M matched the color of the one selected, won. Each one of them had one opportunity to use their veto power.

Allison can’t exactly remember when this started, though she does remember that it was Stiles and Scott’s idea. She was sure that they had been stoned when they had come up with it.

Lydia ran up the curved purple staircase to the right of the counter and picked an M&M. “I got brown! Anybody got brown?”

Allison, Scott, and Stiles peaked at the candy in their hand and they all shook their heads.

Lydia picked out the next candy with a flourish. “Orange!”

Stiles and Allison looked at each other and shrugged. Scott grinned broadly and displayed the orange M&M in his hand proudly.

Stiles groaned as Scott ran to the stereo system.

It’s not that Scott’s musical tastes were very bad, but Scott tended to latch onto a band and play their catalog of music over and over and over again.

Allison smiled as Scott started to bop his head as Dave Matthews Band’s “Ants Marching” started playing.

As Lydia started to dust, Stiles swept, and Scott prepared his till, Allison went in the back and put her box of cupcakes and bag down and went to make some coffee. It was something she did every morning and did it on automatic pilot. Her mind started to wander and inevitably her thoughts landed, as they always did lately, on her future plans.

She’d been applying to colleges since November. There were many schools that she was excited about. She’d been accepted at NYU and UC-Berkeley and, honestly, if it was up to her she would take the spot at NYU. It had always been her dream school and, yes, the distance away from home was a huge factor as well.

But her parents had both gone to Stanford and that was the school they had their hearts set on for Allison. She’d worked hard to be the perfect daughter for so long; she couldn’t disappoint them when it came to something so huge. But Allison was starting to get nervous. It was nearing the end of April and she still hadn’t heard back from Stanford yet. Every day her dad would say it would be any day now.

Allison wasn’t completely sure which outcome she was rooting for. If she wasn’t accepted, then at least she could say she did her best and the decision wasn’t her fault. But she was sure her mother, especially, wouldn’t see it that way and the idea of being rejected really didn’t appeal to Allison. Either way, Allison wished that the letter would come so the constant knot in her stomach would go away.

As she went back to the front, the dilemma still weighed heavily on her. She heard an alarm sound and the blue police light atop the stereo system was flashing. It seemed Stiles was already using his veto power.

“What are you doing?” Scott asked as he ran up to Stiles.

“I’m sorry, Scott, but I can’t listen to this guy for one more second,” Stiles said as he took the Dave Matthews Band CD out and selected his own. “I don’t know why, but his voice depresses me. One more second of this and I’m afraid I might have to jump off the roof.”

“Like this dude’s voice is any better.” As Cake’s “Rock and Roll Lifestyle” started, Scott scrunched up his nose.

“The band’s name is Cake. How can you be depressed listening to a band named Cake? It’s just not logical,” Stiles shot back.

Allison snorted. Her mind instantly was off her college dilemma. They were such goofballs, but they certainly made her life a lot less depressing to be around.

She went to the backroom and was just pulling out a textbook when Derek came out of his office. He leaned against the wall as he looked down at Allison. “Allison, what are you doing?”

“Calculus.” She displayed her textbook. “I hate it, but my mom says I’ve got to get an A.”

Derek shook his head. “No, I meant why are you here? You’re not on until this afternoon.”

Allison grinned as she thought of something she finally had to look forward to. “Derek, it’s Jackson Whittemore day.”

“Right. Jackson frickin’ Whittemore Day.” Derek rolled his eyes.

~*~

After helping Scott set up for the day and deal with their first weirdo customer - a guy who showed up just in his bathrobe - Lydia decided to take a break and sat atop the counter reading up on Jackson Whittemore inTiger Beat magazine. She’d never told Allison, but she had her own crush on Jackson in high school and had even hooked up with him once.

“It says that Jackson is afraid of spiders and that - aww - his parents are his heroes.” Lydia read. She smiled when she saw Allison join them and immediately started cooing over that last tidbit.

“Oh, what a bunch of crap,” Stiles muttered as he looked through a stack of CDs.

“Hey.” Lydia rolled up the magazine and whacked him against his arm.

“Hey, yourself! Don’t blame me because Jackson Whittemore is a huge liar.” Stiles rubbed his arm.

“What did he supposedly lie about?” Allison crossed her arms over her chest.

“His parents were not his heroes,” Stiles said as he sat up on the counter next to Scott. “His parents came to the Sheriff’s station after they had their car stolen a few years ago. His parents were total dickbags to my dad. They acted as if he was beneath them somehow, even though they were the ones that needed his help.” Stiles’ hands were clenched by his side.

Lydia admired how protective Stiles was towards his father. The Sheriff was a great guy, but sometimes Stiles acted like he was the parent in that relationship. Stiles could be immature at times, but he was a lot more responsible than some gave him credit for.

And as much as she did think Jackson might be one of the hottest people on the planet and was looking forward to Allison’s plan to catch him, what Stiles said didn’t seem so far-fetched.

“Anyway, Jackson had to come and pick them up and he acted as if it was the biggest inconvenience in the world. Every time his mom went to touch him, he batted her hand away as if she had cooties or something. Trust me that was not some lovey dovey, All-American family.”

“That doesn’t really prove anything.” Allison looked down and rubbed the back of her neck. “Maybe he was just having a bad night.”

“No, Stiles is right,” Scott piped up. “Jackson’s family lived next door to Isaac and his dad. You can’t tell me they didn’t know what was happening. They’re not heroes,” Scott gritted out. He stomped away from his register. Stiles followed after him.

Allison watched them go and wrung her hands.

Lydia could see how torn up Allison looked and didn’t want this day ruined for her best friend. She clapped Allison on the shoulder. “I know that look. You do not need to feel guilty. Jackson isn’t at fault for what his parents did, or for what happened to Isaac.” She looked at Allison and waited until Allison stared back at her, before she went on. “And so what if he might have lied about his parents being his heroes. Everyone lies. It’s not a big deal.”

Allison nodded.

After Allison returned to the back, Stiles put on The President of the United States’ “Lump” and he and Scott started doing their version of dancing, which one older customer did not find so amusing.

Lydia was surprised when she saw Allison’s father, Chris, walk into the store. He hardly ever came to Hale’s. Allison always said that her parents found it too “low-rent” and it was all she could do just to get them to let her keep working there.

“Mr. Argent, what are you doing here?”

Chris Argent narrowed his eyes briefly as he watched Scott and Stiles “dancing” which looked more like both of them were getting electric shocks and really enjoyed it.

Scott and Stiles spotted Mr. Argent looking at them and immediately stopped. Scott’s face was red and Stiles suddenly found his shoes fascinating.

Chris turned his gaze to Lydia. “I’m looking for Allison. It’s very important.”

“Okay.” Lydia picked up the microphone. “Miss. Allison Argent, a ruggedly handsome older gentleman desperately wants to talk to you, and only you.” She chuckled but Chris didn’t seem nearly so amused.

Allison came running out of the back with a quizzical look on her face, until she spotted her father standing in the rotunda. She adjusted her plaid skirt. “Dad, what are you doing here?”

He smiled tentatively and slowly held up a somewhat thick white envelope. “It’s from Stanford,” he whispered.

Lydia didn’t spare any thoughts to the customers and left the front counter and joined the others. If at all possible she felt as if she was more nervous about the potential outcome than even Allison was.

There was a part of her that was so eager for her friend to make it and get out of Beacon Hills. Lydia didn’t think there was any hope for her, not with her mother’s reputation, but at least Allison could get out. But Lydia didn’t want to be left behind either.

“Stanford,” Allison repeated. She blew out a breath and reached for the letter with trembling fingers.

Before she could open it, her dad reached out and took her hand in his. “I just want you to know that, no matter what, you’ve done everything your mom and I have asked of you, and we couldn’t be prouder of you.”

Allison smiled and blinked back tears.

Lydia looked down and felt a stab of jealousy twisting in her gut.

Slowly, Allison looked down and opened the letter. She stared and stared, not breathing and not blinking.

Lydia was two seconds away from ripping the letter out of Allison’s hands - damn the paper cuts - and reading it herself. “Well, did you get in?”

Allison smiled. “I got in.” She held up the letter and her dad let out a loud whoop of joy and crushed her to him.

Scott and Stiles cheered as well.

“Alright, you did it!” Lydia was only faking her enthusiasm partially. “You’re going to get out of here!”

“This is amazing. Are you happy?” Her dad held Allison’s face in his hands.

Allison bit her lip and, hesitated, before she nodded frantically. “Of course.”

Lydia got on the PA system. “Our own Miss Allison Argent is going to Stanford!”

Scott walked up to Allison. “I’m really happy for you, Allison.”

“Thanks.” Scott looked like he was going to lean in for a hug.

Her father pulled Allison away. “I have to go and tell your mother. Can I have this?” He pointed at the letter.

“Sure.” Allison handed it over quickly.

Chris kissed her on the cheek. “So happy for you. All of your dreams are coming true.”

“Yep.”

Lydia noticed that Allison’s smile didn’t exactly reach her eyes.

“Hey, are you okay?” Lydia rushed over to her after Chris left. “This is great news, right?”

“Absolutely!” Allison practically screamed. “This is my dream.”

Lydia hesitated for a second, not sure if she truly believed her, but Allison beamed at her and pulled her into a hug.

“So Miss Stanford, what are you going to do now?” Lydia pulled back.

Allison’s smile finally faltered and she sighed deeply. “I...I think I’m going to throw up.”

~*~

Stiles paced outside Derek’s office and held the door knob and paused. He walked away and then quickly walked back and flung the door open. Derek looked up in surprise.

“Uh, the sign is busted on the roof. Should I…” Stiles trailed off as Derek looked away with disinterest.

“It’s just…” Stiles took a step inside and then backtracked to shut the door. “The E in the sign is out and now it just looks like Hal Records. And I’m sure Hal would be a great guy to work for, certainly much less inclined to slamming employees into walls, but this isn’t Hal Records so…”

“I’m a failure, Stiles.” Derek sighed deeply.

Stiles opened and closed his mouth several times as he blinked at Derek. Rarely was Stiles at a loss for words but Derek’s confession floored him. It wasn’t like Derek to admit defeat and certainly not like him to admit something like that to Stiles of all people.

Stiles quickly recovered and cleared his throat. “I think failure is too strong a word. It’s just a sign.” He teased.

Derek suddenly grabbed his hand, and Stiles absolutely did not let out an unmanly shriek.

“I’m worried, Stiles.”

Stiles gulped. Rarely, if ever, did Derek initiate physical contact. He was definitely not what one would call a touchy-feely guy. A customer once patted him on the back and Stiles swore it looked like Derek was about to rip his arm off.

Stiles took a deep breath and tried to keep any mini-freak outs at bay. “I don’t think you have anything to be worried about.”

“You don’t know that. Isaac can be in real trouble. And before you say it, I know that Isaac has a habit of getting in trouble but-” He heaved a big sigh. “He’s really tried to change recently. I don’t think he would rob me.”

“Rob seems like too strong of a word. Maybe the money’s just been misplaced.” Stiles really wanted to help Derek out, but he knew Scott would be really upset if they ratted Isaac out. And, more importantly, Derek would probably kick their butts if he found out they knew what Isaac had done and didn’t say anything.

“He’s not calling me back. What if he’s been hurt?” Derek looked up at Stiles with wide eyes.

Stiles thought he would faint. The combination of that wounded look in his eyes, and the fact that Derek was still holding - no, clutching- his hand would surely be the death of him. “I-I-I think- it seems-” Okay he could not form words like this. As much as it pained him to do it, he removed his hand from Derek’s death grip. “I think it’s too soon to jump to conclusions. Isaac can take care of himself.”

“Most of the time that’s true. But, you know the mouth on Isaac. I mean half the time, I want to strangle him and I know…” Derek rubbed the back of his neck and averted his eyes.

Stiles knew exactly what he was getting at. Everyone knew about Isaac’s sad past, though Stiles would admit that sometimes he would forget. Isaac worked hard to never carry himself like a victim and hated anyone who treated him with any kind of pity. It was one of the only things that Stiles respected about him.

“I just wish I knew he was okay.” Derek took a deep breath and got up. He walked in front of Stiles and gripped Stiles’ shoulders, looking into his eyes.

“Trust me Derek, he is.” Stiles’ mouth was faster than his brain.

Derek’s eyes hardened in an instant and his grip on Stiles’ shoulders tightened. “I knew it. Where is he?”

“Wait, what?” Stiles blinked slowly.

“You’ve seen him haven’t you? Where is he?”

“Uh...what happened to Mr. Concerned Nice Guy Derek?” Stiles was still trying to figure out what changed so suddenly.

Derek just quirked his eyebrow up and stared Stiles down.

“You tricked me.” As realization dawned on Stiles, his mouth fell open.

Derek’s only confirmation was a slight nod.

“You dick!” Stiles shouted. He tried to move but Derek’s grip on him didn’t waver. “And here I was thinking you were actually having a genuine, human moment and you were just trying to butter me up to get me to confess.”

“And it worked,” Derek said without a trace of guilt.

Stiles shook his head. He hated that he fell for Derek’s trick and hated even more the reason why he did. He always knew that his crush on Derek wasn’t much of a secret, but to have Derek basically use that against him pissed him off.

Even though he tripped up a little, Stiles still thought he could save face. He clammed up and refused to say anything. Derek would get nothing else out of him.

Derek continued to glare at him and leaned in a little closer.

Stiles refused to make any eye contact, but after a minute the silence was unbearable and he made the mistake of looking into Derek’s eyes. He started to look away-

“Stiles.”

Stiles shook his head vigorously, but the more Derek looked at him, the more Stiles found himself weakening. He just wanted Derek to back off. “You know this isn’t going to work. Okay, yeah it worked before, but I’m on to you now, buddy, and your little glare-athon isn’t going to do anything because I am a lot stronger than I look.”

Derek continued to glare. He was standing so still, he could have been mistaken for a statue. It was actually starting to unnerve Stiles now. Staring at someone for that long - without blinking - couldn’t be human.

“Even though you’re kind of starting to freak me out, I’m still not going to say anything. I mean, I am saying something, obviously because my lips are moving and words are coming out of my mouth, even though I really wish that I could stop…”

Still no blinking.

“But apparently, I can’t stop because someone has to fill the awkward silences here and I’m just going to wait until my brain runs out of words, which could be a really long time, because for some reason I never run out of words until someone tells me to shut up, which you usually do by now, which I can’t believe I’m actually missing right now, because you are really freaking me out.”

Still nothing...and still no blinking.

Stiles refused to give in. He took a deep breath and was prepared to stand his ground. He would wait all day if that’s what it took…

Derek continued to stare.

“Alright, alright,” Stiles exclaimed. “I will tell you anything you want, but please, for the love of God, just blink.

Stiles refused to make eye contact with Scott once he came out to the front counter. He was humiliated that Derek was able to break him so easily.

Scott was too busy laughing with Allison about something to really pay attention to him.

Derek followed closely after Stiles and headed straight for Scott. He rudely interrupted Scott and Allison’s conversation. “Allison, take over the register. You,” he pointed to Scott, “are going to find Isaac.”

He walked off without another word.

Stiles tried to shrink into the background as much as possible, but it was no use. He soon found himself staring down the business end of yet another person’s glare - though at least Scott was blinking.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles said. “But you would not believe the kind of torture tactics that man used to get it out of me.”

~*~

Isaac snuck into the store and was almost surprised to see it was business as usual. He would have thought Derek would have torn half the store apart looking for him and/or the money.

Isaac had spent enough time in the store and spent enough time having to hide from one scrape or the other, to know how to easily make his way around the store without being seen - hiding behind one pillar, then using an unknowing customer as a shield, then hiding behind a rack of albums, etc. He almost preferred getting around the store this way.

He made his way towards the back of the store and stopped when he saw Scott and Stiles huddled together. He stopped half because he didn’t want to be seen yet, but also because he was kind of surprised to see what looked like an argument between Scott and Stiles. That was unusual because those two were usually as thick as thieves.

He moved in a little closer.

“I just wish you hadn’t told him anything yet.” Scott sounded a little disappointed.

“It’s not like I told him much. Neither of us even knows where the little thief is.”

Isaac rolled his eyes. Though for once, he couldn’t really blame Stiles for thinking the worst of him.

“He’s not a thief.”

“Uh, Scott, open your eyes. The money is gone and Isaac took it. That is pretty much literally the definition of thief,” Stiles explained in his condescending, ‘I’m smarter than everyone’ voice.

“I know he had to have his reasons.”

Isaac leaned his head against the wall and wished more than anything that he had let Scott in last night. Scott would have stopped him from making, what was probably, the stupidest mistake of his life.

“It doesn’t really matter what his reasons are. Derek is going to do very, very bad things to both of us if we don’t find Isaac,” Stiles groused.

Isaac hated that he’d put Scott, and even Stiles, in this position.

“Look, just go back to work. I’ll call Isaac again and hopefully he’ll answer,” Scott offered.

“Maybe you should call your mom. You know Isaac would go to her if he needed help.”

“Probably.” Scott blew out a long breath. “But I don’t want to drag my mom into this if she doesn’t know anything yet. I’ll only call when we’re really desperate.”

Isaac looked around the corner and almost burst out laughing at the look on Stiles’ face. He knew exactly what Stiles was thinking.

Apparently, so did Scott.

“We’re not that desperate yet.”

Stiles just grumbled loudly before he shuffled off.

Scott walked over to the phone and dialed hurriedly. “Come on, Isaac pick up the phone, please.”

Isaac decided to put Scott out of his misery. He walked out while Scott had his back to him. “You know I don’t take calls before 6PM.”

Scott whirled around. He smiled briefly before the smile dropped and he rushed over to Isaac. “Where have you been?” He eyed the suspicious bucket in Isaac’s hands.

“I’ve been thinking,” Isaac answered.

“About what you’re going to do about the money?” Scott prodded him.

“About the future.” Isaac continued to be as cryptic as possible.

“About your future in jail if you don’t do something about the money?” Scott was beginning to sound irritated.

“No, I was thinking more about your future.”

“My future?” Scott blinked. “What? I think you have more important things to be thinking about, Isaac.”

Isaac shook his head. “No, this is important. You need to stop avoiding this, Scott.”

“Avoiding what?” Scott threw up his hands.

“Applying for art school. The application has been sitting on your desk at home for weeks and you haven’t even filled in your name.”

Scott looked down at the floor. “I’m a slow writer, ok.”

Isaac opened his mouth to respond, but Scott cut him off.

“I need to know what to tell, Derek. He wants me to find you. Should I find you?” Scott looked at him with desperate eyes.

Isaac didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything. He just turned around and headed for Derek’s office.

Isaac could hear Stiles singing in there. He stood just outside the office door and watched the two of them.

“Say no more, mon amour…” Stiles sang somewhat badly.

“Is there some reason sweeping has to involve your butchering of an already horrible song?” Derek groaned.

“You know I’m going to have a band one day and I’m gonna show all you little people.”

“Yeah, and on that day, I’m gonna jump out of my wheelchair and do a dance,” Derek said in a mocking tone.

“Yeah, well how about today? Freaking Jackson Whittemore day.”

Isaac decided to interrupt the banter and finally make an appearance. He took a deep breath before walking in as nonchalantly as possible.

Stiles actually paled when he saw him. “Uh oh…”

Isaac felt the temperature drop about 100 degrees when Derek looked over at him.

Isaac smiled as brightly as possible. “What’s up, Derek?”

“What’s up?” Derek stood up slowly and walked over to Isaac. His eyes never left Isaac for a second. “What’s up? I’m just wondering what you did with the money you stole.”

“It’s kind of in Vegas.” Isaac looked down and played with the coins in his bucket.

“What’s it doing in Vegas?” Derek gritted out.

“Re-circulating.”

Behind them, he could see Scott and Stiles share a pained look. They all knew the shit was about to hit the fan any second.

“Re-circulating?” Suddenly Derek smacked the bucket out of Isaac’s hand and the coins clattered on to the floor.

Derek grabbed Isaac by his jacket collar, but he soon backed away and leaned forward and took a deep breath. When he straightened up, he looked directly at Isaac. “I covered for you.”

“And I appreciate that.” Isaac truly meant it.

“I told Peter I would deliver the money to the bank,” Derek explained.

Isaac pursed his lips. “You probably shouldn’t have done that. It’s in Vegas. It could be in other cities by now.”

“How could you do this to me? Why would you go to Vegas?” Derek pinched the bridge of his nose.

Isaac still couldn’t come up with anything to say to Derek. He’d been thinking about it all night. He wanted to tell Derek the truth, but he really didn’t think it would help.

Derek growled. He grabbed Isaac by the shoulder and forcibly brought him over to the couch in the break room. He shoved him down. “You sit there and don’t move.” Derek started to walk away, but turned back to Isaac. “Unless it’s to bring me nine thousand dollars. Then you bring it over to me, okay?”

“Derek, that doesn’t really sound like a feasible option. How am I supposed to make nine thousand dollars sitting on the couch? I could become one of those telemarketers.” Isaac knew he was pushing his luck, but he couldn’t stop himself. He chronically suffered from foot in mouth disease.

“Isaac, come on you’re not helping anything,” Scott piped in.

“What the hell am I supposed to do now?” Derek shook his head.

He was looking over at Stiles and Scott, but it didn’t sound as if he was looking for an actual answer.

“I really do think it’s going to be fine.” Isaac wanted to say something comforting, but that was about all he could come up with.

“And why do you think that?” Derek asked.

Isaac was caught off guard for a second. He had no idea and he hadn’t expected Derek to press him for an answer. Now he could only fall back on sarcasm. “Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear.”

Derek’s eyes bulged slightly as he looked down at Isaac. “God, you’re a moron.” He stomped away and slammed the door to his office.

Stiles didn’t give him another glance as he picked up the broom and walked away.

Scott sadly shook his head as he looked away and followed Stiles out.

Isaac fell back against the ratty couch. “What the hell am I going to do?” He mumbled.

~*~

Lydia was mindlessly dusting and to amuse herself she started to hum and didn’t even realize it when she started singing Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” out loud.

She didn’t realize what she was doing until she saw Allison watching her with a small smile on her face.

“What?” Lydia stopped and looked over at Allison.

“You probably didn’t know you were doing it again, did you?”

Even though she didn’t say it in a mean way, Lydia got a little embarrassed. “Was I singing again?”

Allison nodded.

“Sorry. I know it’s annoying,” Lydia replied.

Allison gently touched her shoulder to get Lydia to look at her again. “Absolutely not. I think it’s great. You sound awesome, Lydia.”

Lydia grinned. She should have known better than that. Allison was one of her biggest cheerleaders and probably the only reason Lydia had any confidence in her abilities at all.

“It kind of makes me think about that demo tape of yours,” Allison said a bit hesitantly.

“Uh huh.” Lydia should have known she would bring that up. She moved over to another rack and pretended as if dusting was the only thing she could concentrate on.

But Allison wasn’t done yet. “Have you given more thought to sending it in?”

“I just think it’d be a waste of time, even if I could get someone to listen to it. Why would they give me a shot?” Lydia knew Allison meant well and she knew she should send it in, but Lydia was petrified about what would inevitably happen.

“Because you’re really talented,” Allison insisted.

“It takes a lot more than talent to make it, Allison.”

Allison started to protest, but Lydia started to giggle. Allison looked at her curiously. “What?”

Lydia leaned forward and whispered in her ear. “I think Scott’s watching you. He’s trying to be subtle, but I don’t think anyone told him what that actually means.”

Allison looked over her shoulder and grinned. Scott was looking at an album, or at least pretending to. He had it straight in front of him and was looking at them over the top of the record. When he saw them looking, he quickly lifted the record up.

“He’s been acting kind of weird today.” Allison laughed. “I guess it’s the Isaac thing.”

Lydia chuckled. “I think it’s more like the Allison thing.”

“What?” Allison looked over at her sharply.

Before Lydia could explain, a young lady in a black hat walked over to the counter. “Is either one of you Allison Argent?”

“That’s me.” Allison held up her hand.

The young woman handed over a bouquet of roses. She smiled and walked away.

Lydia plucked the card that was sticking out of the top. “To our number one daughter. Congratulations on getting into Stanford. You made us proud. This is just the beginning. Love, mom.” Lydia thought it was sweet, but when she looked over and saw the frown on Allison’s face, she knew she felt differently.

“Just the beginning? I don’t think it’s ever going to be enough for them,” Allison lamented.

“Oh, I don’t think they meant it like that.” Allison didn’t look convinced. “I don’t think she meant anything bad by it.”

But Allison turned her attention to a customer that just walked up.

Lydia sighed. Truth was she did know that Allison’s parents, more so her mom than her dad, did put a lot of pressure on her. Sometimes she wondered whether it was easier to have overly attentive parents like Allison’s, or barely there ones like her mother.

~*~

Erica parked her bike and slowly took the helmet off. She wondered if it was a good idea to even be here. She had thought she was ready to face the questions that would bombard her, but right now she wasn’t so sure.

She got up and looked at the sign - which seemed to be on the fritz - and touched the bandage on her wrist self-consciously. She shook off the nerves. She was no chicken. She didn’t care what any of these losers thought.

She strode toward the front door.

“Erica!”

Erica groaned. The one person she really was not prepared to deal with right now was Boyd. It really wasn’t fair to blame him for what happened.

She had been mostly happy with Boyd. They’d been dating for the last six months and they were some of the happiest times of her life. Whenever they fought, it was usually her trying to pick a fight with him because she was afraid of how close they were getting. She wasn’t meant for relationships.

“Erica?” Boyd called out again.

Erica thought it best to ignore him. It was probably best for both of them.

She ripped open the door and tried to walk through to the back as quickly as possible.

“Hi, Erica.” Allison called to her in her overly cheerful and everything is right with the world voice. Everything was far from being alright.

She flipped Allison the bird.

As she walked away she heard Allison say, “She hates me.”

“She hates me to,” Lydia countered. “Except I have the sense to hate her back.”

Erica didn’t hate them. She was definitely jealous of their friendship and how easy they seemed to have things in life, but she didn’t hate them. There was only one person she hated and it wasn’t either one of them.

She walked back to the break room and didn’t say anything to Isaac or Stiles before she locked herself in the bathroom.

~*~

Derek stared at his phone. There was really only one thing he could do at this point. Isaac had left him no choice. He picked up the phone to call the police and paused.

He couldn’t help thinking about the day he met Isaac. He had gone to visit Scott in the hospital after he’d had his appendix taken out. Scott’s mother and Derek’s were old friends and Derek always saw Scott as a little brother - an annoying little brother - but a brother nonetheless.

When he walked into Scott’s room he was laughing with the other boy in his room. It was Isaac. He had a broken arm - one of several injuries over the years. As soon as Derek walked into the room, Isaac clammed up and retreated to the other corner of the room.

That was how it was for the longest time. Scott was the only person Isaac would open up to. Even though Isaac became more open, and far more verbal, it seemed like that hadn’t really changed. It seemed like Scott was the only person Isaac truly felt comfortable with.

But Derek thought he had changed that. He thought they had truly become close. He knew they had. They were family. Sometimes it felt like Isaac was the only family he had. He couldn’t turn his back on him now. He needed answers - real answers.

Derek knew that Isaac had to have been putting on an act earlier. Isaac knew how much trouble he put Derek in; he wouldn’t be so cavalier about that.

Derek stood up and walked out to the other room. “Isaac, are you in trouble?”

Isaac looked as if he was seriously contemplating his question. “I think we’re all in trouble.”

Derek rolled his eyes. Great, more jokes.

“Allison’s in trouble,” Isaac continued.

“Allison’s not in trouble. She’s going to Stanford,” Scott said as he was perched on the floor.

Derek looked over and briefly wondered what Scott was doing on the floor. Then he saw him gluing quarters - the coins from Isaac’s Vegas trip - to the floor. At this point Derek never questioned when he saw Scott doing weird things like that. Apparently anything could pass for “art” these days.

Isaac was back to his list. “Scott’s in trouble.”

“I’m not in trouble.”

“This is coming from the guy gluing quarters to the floor,” Stiles chimed in sarcastically.

“Do you want me to turn you in?” Derek sat on the orange couch’s arm and looked down at Isaac.

Isaac stroked his chin. “It seems like a viable option.”

Scott looked up. “No, absolutely not.”

Derek stared at Isaac, but he didn’t offer anything else.

Derek got up with a disgusted grunt. “Scott, I need you to close.”

Scott got up and rubbed the back of his neck. He looked uncertain. “I’m not sure if I can. I’m working at the animal clinic tomorrow.”

Derek forgot about that. “Ugh, I know I’m putting you in a tough spot, but I’m out of options.”

“I’ll close.” Isaac held up his hand.

Both Scott and Derek ignored him.

Scott sighed. “The bills are piling up at the house and we could use the money. I’ll do it.”

“Damn the man.” Isaac pumped his fist in the air.

“I am in hell,” Derek grumbled as he stalked out of the room.

~*~

“Would you stop fidgeting?” Lydia applied some eyeshadow to Allison.

“I’m sorry.” Allison laughed. “I keep feeling like you’re going to poke me in the eye.”

“I am going to poke you in the eye if you don’t stop moving.”

Allison stopped, but now she couldn’t stop laughing.

Lydia blew out a breath and stopped. “Do you want me to help you to prepare to meet Jackson or not?”

“Okay, okay I’ll be serious.” Allison held up her hands.

Lydia started working again. “I swear Allison you are so lucky you are naturally gorgeous. I don’t know how you got through high school without knowing how to put on eyeshadow.”

“I just never really needed it.” Allison shrugged. “Scott never really cared about it and neither did I.”

“Well, no offense to Scott, he is no Jackson Whittemore. He will notice. Trust me, guys like that always notice things like that,” Lydia advised.

Make-up had always been an essential tool for Lydia in high school. She kind of considered it her war paint. It was really a mask she hid behind. The same way she hid behind the reputation she had unfairly gotten as the slut of the school.

Her mother was considered the town slut and everyone in school just automatically considered it like mother, like daughter.

Lydia had decided if she was going to have the reputation, she might as well own it. She liked sex and she wasn’t going to be ashamed of that. At least she tried not to be.

“You know I think you and Jackson are destiny.”

“Really?” Allison beamed.

“Yeah.” Lydia sat back. “Perfect guy, perfect gal. It’s romance.” Lydia looked at her handy work. She handed Allison a mirror.

Lydia remembered her own delirious crush on Jackson in high school. He was actually the one guy she was too scared to approach. You could have knocked her over with a feather, when he actually initiated contact with her.

“Wow.” Allison grinned. “I should have been doing this more often.”

“I told you,” Lydia said.

“It’s perfect.”

Lydia held up her finger. “Not yet.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a red lace push-up bra.

“Your bra?” Allison asked skeptically.

“It’s my lucky bra. It’ll give you courage and if you’re wearing that, you’ll get Jackson, no problem,” Lydia explained.

“Thank you.” Allison took it and hugged Lydia.

Lydia hugged her back. She really wasn’t jealous. Her crush on Jackson was a thing of the past and if she wasn’t going to have Jackson, she couldn’t think of anyone better to get him than Allison.

~*~

Erica took a good luck at herself in the mirror. She ran her hand slowly through her long blonde hair. It was probably her best asset. There were a lot of times that she really felt that she hid behind her hair. There were so many times she didn’t want people to see her and she hid behind it.

But she didn’t want that anymore. Everything about her life lately was out of control. She needed to control something for once.

Before she could talk herself out of it, Erica grabbed the orange handled shears and gripped a long strand of blonde hair and cut it off.

For a moment, she panicked and wondered what she was thinking. But as she looked at the long hair in her hands, she let out a short laugh. She felt like a weight had been taken off. She knew it had to get better from here.

She reached for the scissors again.

~*~

Isaac is already extremely bored and restless. He looked over his shoulder and saw Scott drawing something, instead of gluing quarters on the floor. He always loved watching Scott work.

He twisted around in his seat, but he couldn’t get a good look at it. He got up to look over Scott’s shoulder.

“Hey!” Derek yelled from his office. “Did you miraculously come up with nine thousand dollars?”

“No.”

“Then get your ass back in that seat!”

Isaac knew this was his own fault, so he didn’t put up a fight.

Scott was nice enough to come over and sit by him.

Isaac looked over to see Scott’s drawing and almost wished he hadn’t. Scott was drawing in his notebook a small picture of Allison in pencil. It looked great, but Isaac really didn’t need to be reminded of Scott’s obsession with Allison.

Scott stopped drawing and frowned down at his notebook. “I don’t feel like I’m getting her right.”

“Shocking,” Isaac muttered.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

Scott sat back and held his notebook to his chest. “Isaac, do you think someone can be in love with someone else and not know it?”

Isaac almost laughed at the irony. He knew that he certainly hoped so. He cleared his throat and looked at Scott out of the corner of his eye. “In this life there are nothing but possibilities.”

Scott seemed to like that answer. He went back to drawing. But he soon looked back up at Isaac. “I’m going to tell Allison I love her by 1:37.”

Isaac narrowed his eyes and wondered about such a specific time. Before he could say anything about it, Erica came out of the bathroom.

He is sure that both he and Scott’s mouths dropped simultaneously when they saw her shorn head.

Erica looked over at the both of them and grinned.

“You did have hair when you walked in there, right?” Scott asked.

“Yeah. It’s in the sink if you want to glue it.” Erica said. She acted as if her coming out of the bathroom bald was an everyday thing. She looked over at Derek in his office. “Why is Derek giving you a death glare, Isaac? What did you do this time?”

“I stole nine thousand dollars.”

“Cool.” Erica ran a hand over her head.

Scott looked over at Isaac. “Did you see that?”

Isaac didn’t say anything, but he definitely did. It made his blood run cold. It took him back to one of the darkest times in his life. He had thought he couldn’t take any more of his father’s abuse and he’d just wanted it over with. He had the razor right next to his wrist and felt that with one movement everything would be over and he wouldn’t hurt anymore.

The thing was he didn’t want everything to be over. There were actually good things in his life - namely Scott - and he didn’t want his father to take that away from him. So he didn’t do it.

He didn’t realize that things were so bad for Erica. He wished he had seen it. He should have recognized it.

Scott caught up to Erica before she could leave the room. He gently grabbed her wrist. “What is that?”

Erica swallowed thickly before she let out a low chuckle. “I realized I’d rather kill myself than meet Jackson Whittemore.”

“That’s not funny,” Scott looked in utter turmoil. “This is serious.”

“Back off, Scott. This is none of your business.” Erica clenched her fists and looked as if she felt cornered.

Isaac got up and stepped in slightly between them. Isaac knew how protective Scott could be. It was one of his best qualities, but sometimes he didn’t know when to back off. Erica is not someone you could push and get her to open up. Scott could potentially be making things worse.

“She’s fine.” Isaac caressed Erica’s bald head.

Erica nodded slightly and backed away.

“What’s with you today?” Scott glared at him.

“What’s with today today?” Isaac cringed inwardly at that.

Scott just furrowed his brow and walked away.

“Idiot,” Isaac muttered.

~*~

Lydia and Allison were finishing up with customers. Lydia saw Allison look to her left and her jaw dropped. Lydia looked in the direction she was staring at. Her eyes bugged out when she spotted the very bald Erica.

Erica walked past them and didn’t say anything as she prepared her till.

“Why’d you do that?” Allison turned to her as she pulled her till from her register.

“Just your typical nutty teenager in America.” Erica said in a monotone voice. She turned to the two of them. “Oh, before you hear about it…” She displayed her bandaged wrist.

Allison looked startled.

Lydia was shocked as well. She may not always get along with Erica, but she felt bad at how depressed Erica must have been to have done that.

“I-is that a joke?”

“No, you’re the joke.”

Allison’s face fell. She took off before Lydia could say anything to her.

Lydia narrowed her eyes at Erica. She didn’t care how bad Erica felt. She was constantly taking out her crap on Allison especially and she was sick of it. “Well Sinead O’Rebellion! Shock me, shock me, shock me with that deviant behavior.”

“That’s funny.” Erica pretended to laugh. “You know you get funnier the shorter your skirt gets.”

“And you look better the shorter your hair gets, so it’s probably a good thing you went with that.”

Erica didn’t say anything else.

Lydia took that as a win for her.

~*~

Stiles walked into Derek’s office.

He was sat back in his chair and was clutching his drumsticks. Sometimes Stiles forgot that Derek used to - and sometimes still did - play.

“You know if you’re up for it, you can join my band. You know when I actually get a band.”

“Why are you here?” Derek wearily looked up at him.

“I don’t know.” Stiles shrugged. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“Why do you care? Shouldn’t you be pissed about what I pulled earlier?”

Stiles walked in and sat down in front of Derek’s desk. “I should be, but I probably deserved it. I should have told you sooner about seeing Isaac.” Stiles chuckled. “I didn’t think you had it in you. Impressed you could mimic human emotions so well.”

Derek just rolled his eyes.

Stiles sighed and leaned forward. “So, what are you going to do about Isaac?”

Derek looked up at the ceiling. “I tried to call the police.” He looked over at Stiles. “They put me on hold. Then I hung up.”

“Can you really turn him in to the police?” Stiles didn’t actually think it would get this far. He could never imagine Derek turning his back on Isaac.

Derek cocked his head to the side and truly looked lost. “Isaac is 21. He needs to take some responsibility for his actions.” Seemingly to make a point, Derek picked up the phone. He gripped it in his hand tightly. “It’s just easier…”

“Said than done,” Stiles finished.

Derek put the phone down.

Stiles put his hand over Derek’s. He’s surprised when Derek doesn’t remove it right away. “Maybe there’s a third option,” Stiles suggested.

Derek looked down at Stiles’ hand and suddenly snatched his hand away. “Get back to work, Stiles.”

Well, that was fun while it lasted. Stiles sighed and left.

He walked out to the CD player in the store and put on some Smashing Pumpkins. He started thrashing around. A few of the other customers joined him.

Suddenly, the music stopped. Stiles looked over, still dizzy, and saw Lydia by the CD player.

“Veto!” Lydia cried.

“What are you doing?” Stiles staggered over to her.

“It’s too early,” Lydia explained. “You know that music makes the customers all crazy like.”

Stiles muttered angrily. He was sick of everyone ragging on him.

He looked up and smiled broadly when he saw Danny walk into the store. Danny always had perfect timing. He worked part-time at the pizza place and sometimes at Hale’s. He had a more extensive knowledge about music, and pretty much everything else, than anyone Stiles knew.

He was also the best baker of pot brownies Stiles ever knew.

“Hey, what’s up Stiles?”

“Nothing much,” Stiles answered.

“I got you something,” Danny said.

“Really?” Stiles said with excitement.

He was a little disappointed when he saw it wasn’t a tin of brownies.

“Yeah, I made a special record of some of my favorites. It’s a mix of everything. I’ve got the Stones, Henry Rollins, Gwar…” Danny listed.

“Gwar’s so cool,” Stiles chimed in. He realized that he’d forgotten to tell Danny the biggest news of the day. “Hey, did you hear about Isaac?”

~*~

Derek hated being on hold. He imagined that the elevator music they played would be the kind that would be awaiting people in hell. Finally, a strident sounding woman picked up.

“Yes, hello, I was calling because I was looking for information about getting a small loan?” He listened to the information. “Okay, well is there any way to fast track this process. Like what are the odds that I could walk out with nine thousand dollars in cash today?” Derek pulled back the receiver and looked at with disgust. The woman’s laughter still echoed in his ears. “That’s kind of rude and unnecessary.” He hung up.

He slumped over his desk, pressing the receiver to his head. After a minute, he heard some raucous laughter in the break room and looked through the window. He saw Danny and Stiles enter the room. He groaned.

Getting Stiles to pay attention to work was difficult on a good day and when you added Danny, especially with his good time brownies, it was almost impossible. The last thing he needed today was a spastic, high Stiles on the loose with Jackson freakin’ Whittemore set to grace their presence shortly.

Danny walked over to Isaac’s couch of imprisonment and started animatedly talking to him. Everyone looked like they were having a great time, which just pissed Derek off even more. Though, at least Isaac had the grace to not look he was enjoying his “punishment.”

Derek really couldn’t blame them for not knowing just how much Isaac’s actions had royally screwed things up. But, he still felt they should realize what Isaac did was no laughing matter, and respect how upset he was.

Suddenly, Derek heard the speakers squawk to life.

“This one goes out to our employee of the week, Isaac Lahey. We salute you!” Lydia perkily announced.

When Derek heard “Money (That What I Want)” by The Flying Lizards begin to play, he almost strained something with how hard he rolled his eyes. The phone began to screech at him and reminded him that he had yet to hang the phone up. He slammed it down.

The sight that greeted him when he looked up did nothing to improve his mood. Danny had started singing along to the song and was starting to dance around.

“Isaac wants money.” Lydia interrupted the song over the speaker.

Derek clenched his fists. He was thisclose to punching a hole through his desk.

“Derek’s money,” Lydia drawled.

Putting his head in his hands, Derek counted to ten. When he opened up his eyes and dared a look at the impromptu party his employees were throwing, his blood boiled. Stiles, and even Scott, had joined in with the dancing. Danny had his arm around Stiles’ waist and they were dancing close. Too close in Derek’s opinion and for some reason that sight was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

Derek stood up and stalked over to the closet in his office. He ripped open a box and took out a stack of orange flyers. He walked over to the door and practically ripped it off its hinges as he climbed down the stairs.

More calmly than he felt, he started handing out the flyers. He didn’t even look any of them in the face, but everyone stopped dancing and he could feel everyone’s eyes on the back of his head as he headed to the main floor. He gave Lydia, Allison, and Erica flyers.

“Put the rest back there.” He pointed to the back counter and headed back to the break area.

As soon as he walked in there, he was confronted by Stiles. “What’s going on?”

Briefly, Derek looked up and over at Isaac, who just stared at him. He didn’t really seem surprised at all or look angry and instead looked sad.

Derek didn’t have time to examine that too closely as Lydia and Allison entered the room and headed straight for him.

“Why’d you give us this, Derek? We're not a Music Town." Allison peered down at the flyer in her hand as if it had mortally offended her.

"Not yet," Derek replied. "My family wants to sell to Music Town, but I had gotten enough money together to become a partner and eventually I was going to buy out Peter's shares."

"So, are you basically going to own Hale’s?" Allison smiled brightly.

Derek shook his head. "Not now." He looked pointedly at Isaac. "Now I have to pay for what Mr. Brilliant here did."

"Screw Peter." Isaac finally spoke up.

"That's real intelligent, Isaac. Do you think that's what I should tell him to explain your latest bonehead move?"

"Why do you have to explain anything to him?"

Derek rubbed at his temples. “I shouldn’t be surprised that you can’t understand how things actually work between adults. Peter has controlling shares in this business, which makes him my boss.”

“That makes him the man.” Isaac said with the petulance and righteousness only someone his age could pull off.

Derek wasn’t going to bother arguing. “Yeah, and the man calls the shots.”

“Damn the man!” Isaac practically pouted.

Derek wasn’t sure if Isaac was completely missing the point on purpose or what, but he was beyond tired of the conversation and the whole situation. “Peter is the man. I’m the idiot. You’re the screw-up and we’re all losers.” He trudged over to his office and then slowly turned back around. “Welcome to Music Town.”

~*~

Erica read over the rules on the flyer for the fourth time and still couldn’t get it to sink in. Hale’s was really going away. She felt like she should have known. It was like she had practically dared the universe to challenge the idea that her life couldn’t get any suckier. Now the one place that she felt like she even quasi fit in was being taken away.

She looked around at everyone else, who were all reeling and dealing with the news in their own way. Scott had his arm around Stiles as he ranted and raved about all of the changes that Music Town would bring about. That was typical Scott. Erica could tell that Scott was really sad, but he was putting that aside to look out for his friend.

Allison was dealing with customers and trying to put on a brave face. As much as Erica pretended not to like Allison she wouldn’t expect anything less from her. Allison always seemed to have everything handled and didn’t freak out about things, like the rest of them.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Lydia standing directly next to her, and she was sure the look on Lydia’s face matched her own. And it suddenly really hit her how much she would actually miss the vacuous redhead, though in her heart of hearts, she had to admit that maybe Lydia wasn’t so useless. Lydia was a lot smarter than some gave her credit for.

It was entirely possible that everyone here was actually the closest thing she had to family and she didn’t know what would happen to all of them.

“No piercings. No visible tattoos.” Erica started to read some of the rules out loud, just to have something to concentrate on then all of the thoughts in her head.

“No revealing clothing.” Lydia read.

Erica sighed. “We’re both screwed. At least you’re used to it.” She decided to take the opportunity to pass on some of her frustration.

Lydia didn’t miss a beat. “Now, Erica, don’t be bitter. I’m sure with your ever growing collection of flesh-mutilating appendages and brand new neo-Nazi boot camp makeover; the boys will come a-runnin’.”

Somehow that comment made her feel better. It felt normal. She reached out and touched Lydia’s arm. “Let’s not fight, just rip.”

Lydia joined her and tore the offending orange paper vigorously.

~*~

Allison finally got a chance to step away from the register. She wanted a chance to really process this news. She knew she couldn’t go to the break room because that’s where Isaac was being sequestered. Scott and Stiles had taken up residence near the CD racks. She knew she could probably turn to them to commiserate with, but that wasn’t really what she wanted right now.

She stepped outside and took a deep breath. She banged her head against the hard door. She took a small gold vial and took a valium to calm her down. Her mom had given her some when she was studying for the SATs to help her with her anxiety. When she’d run out, she’d found someone at school who had sold them to her. She definitely wouldn’t say she was an addict, but she realized she had started to over rely on them whenever she was feeling overwhelmed.

Honestly, Allison thought she shouldn’t even be this upset. She was getting out of this town and wouldn’t be working at Hale’s for much longer anyway. As much as she loved working there, it was never somewhere that she saw herself at long-term.

But for her friends, she knew how much this place was home. And because she loved her friends so much this was a sort of home to her, too. As gruff and unfriendly as Derek was sometimes, he was still a great boss, and she knew how much the place meant to him. She really wished there was something she could do, but she didn’t know how to fix it.

Allison sighed deeply. As selfish as it seemed to her, she realized that she couldn't dwell on this seemingly hopeless situation right now. It was still Jackson Whittemore day after all.

She made her way to the front of the store and could see people were already lined around the block. It was almost time and they had barely gotten things decorated.

Since everyone else was still reeling from Derek's news, she enlisted Danny's help in getting the table for the autograph session set-up.

Allison got the cardboard cutout of Jackson out. She stared at it and couldn't believe that in less than hour she would be seeing him face to face again. And, if everything went according to plan, he would be her first.

The thought filled her with butterflies. She felt a mixture of excitement and apprehension, though right now the excitement was winning.

She wasn't quite sure what Jackson would say to her request. She was sure that Jackson didn't even know that she existed when they were in high school. But she was older now, and while she was sure that Jackson could have any woman he wanted, she was hoping he would see something in her, and maybe he'd be flattered knowing how long she'd been pining for him. It might take some convincing, but she thought her plan could work. At least she hoped it would.

~*~

Stiles had just started in on another rant about Music Town. Every time Scott thought that Stiles was done and had calmed down and was beginning to really process the news that Derek had dropped on them, he would just get riled up again.

"They don't even sell vinyl anymore and why - because it supposedly doesn't make any money, because everything is about money to them. No wonder an asshole like Peter wants to sell to them. You know, I hate to agree with Isaac on anything, but damn the man."

Scott nodded.

Stiles sighed. He laid a hand heavily on Scott's shoulder. "I'm sorry."

Scott looked up at him a bit startled. "Sorry about what?"

"In all my ranting and raving, I haven't even asked you how you're doing with this news. You've been here almost as long as I have. It really sucks this had to happen on your anniversary."

"It would suck no matter when it happened." Scott hung his head. "I don't even know what to think, man. I feel...sort of lost. I don't know what I'm going to do now."

Scott really hadn't thought much about his future. All through high school, he'd always felt dumb. There was one point he thought he might want to be a veterinarian, but given his grades, and that he didn't really handle death well (he'd cried for a week after his dog Dale had died), he'd put it out of his mind.

The one thing he was really good at was drawing. He'd treated it more like a hobby than anything else. He never seriously considered that he could make a career out of it. The first person who really told him he could really have a future with it was Isaac. He really believed in Scott's ability and really made Scott believe in it, too.

But Scott was still afraid. He was afraid of trying for art school and getting rejected. He was afraid of actually getting into art school and failing miserably. He was afraid of finishing art school and finding out that his art was good, but not good enough. Then where would he be. He didn't want to let everybody down.

In a way he knew that if he had this job at Hale's, maybe he didn't really have to think too hard about his future. He'd been putting it off for two years, but now without this safety net, he may just have to put those fears aside.

Scott looked up at Stiles. "I feel kind of bad." Even though it was silly Scott felt bad for worrying about that when there were much bigger things happening right now.

"Why do you feel bad?"

Scott sat up. "I just feel bad worrying about me when I know this is probably a lot worse for Derek and Isaac."

Stiles shook his head. "Dude, what am I always telling you?"

"That Danny's brownies are better than sex. Even though you've only had sex once, so I'm not sure-"

Stiles clamped his hand over Scott's mouth. "Oh, my God, could you be any louder? Aliens in outer space can hear you. And I really don't need aliens, or anyone else, knowing I'm practically a virgin."

"Sorry." Scott held up his hands.

Stiles paused and looked around. As soon as he was satisfied no one had overheard them, he turned back to Scott. "Anyway, that's not what I meant. You need to be a little more selfish, Scott. You're allowed to feel bad about potentially losing your job and what it means for you."

Scott nodded slowly. "I know." He looked over to where Isaac was sitting on the couch in the break room. "But I can be worried for my friends, too."

~*~

Isaac watched Scott and Stiles commiserating together, though really Stiles did most of the talking. But, Scott didn't need to say anything. Isaac could read him backwards and forwards just by watching him - which Isaac had maybe a little too much practice with.

Scott was clearly hurting and Isaac hated the role that he played in that. Before Isaac dwell too much on that, Scott got up and made his way over to him.

Isaac tried to school his face to mask any kind of emotion. After what he did, the last thing he wanted was for Scott to offer him any comfort.

Scott eased into the seat next to him and just watched Isaac for a second. Isaac fidgeted under his scrutiny.

"Are you okay?" Scott asked as he still watched Isaac closely.

Isaac shrugged. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Scott shrugged in return. "I don't know. We're about to lose our jobs. Your pseudo father basically accused you of ruining his dreams. And you refuse to look me in the eye."

Damn. Isaac should have known as well as he could read Scott that was how well Scott could read him. Isaac finally looked at Scott directly. "Hold on. I’m trying to figure out if you managed to use pseudo correctly."

"Isaac!" Scott sounded like a parent scolding a child.

"What do you want me to say, Scott?" Isaac ran a hand through his hair. "This whole situation sucks, but there's nothing I can do about it."

Scott put his hand on Isaac's back. "But you were trying to, weren't you? That's why you took the money, isn't it?"

Isaac didn't respond, but he didn't need to.

"I knew you wouldn't do that to Derek without a good reason. You were trying to help." Scott sounded so hopeful and relieved.

"Don't go nominating me for sainthood, okay. It didn't even work and I just fucked everything up worse, as usual." For some reason, Scott's always present faith in him was not making him feel better at the moment. Isaac just wanted to wallow in this pain because it was what he deserved.

"You didn't mean to."

"I never mean to, but it doesn't matter." Isaac wasn't sure if Scott was aware of it or not, but he was rubbing slow circles on Isaac's back and was making it hard for him to concentrate. He scooted away from Scott. "I didn't do it just to help."

Scott furrowed his brow. "What do you mean?"

"I found the Music Town franchise agreement last night. I knew that Derek wouldn't do this if it weren't for his family. He wouldn't do that to us. So without really thinking I took the money and I headed to Vegas because, yeah, I wanted to help. I got there and you know what?" He turned to Scott expectantly.

Scott actually was literally on the edge of his seat and shook his head.

“I actually doubled the money.”

Scott’s jaw dropped. “Are you serious?”

Isaac nodded slowly. “Yep.”

Isaac almost laughed; Scott looked so cute when he was confused.

“Then what happened?” Scott asked.

“I had won the money and I was actually going to be smart and take the money and go. But then I just kept thinking about that Music Town agreement. I didn’t understand why Derek was keeping it. Why he didn’t just throw it back in that bastard Peter’s face? I wondered if Derek had given up and I just got so angry. This is his family business. We’re his family. If he’s not going to fight for us, then who? I thought about him kicking me out and his giving up on me.”

“Isaac, that’s not what happened.” Scott interrupted.

Isaac waved him off. “I know. He was trying for tough love. I didn’t say I was exactly being rational in this moment.” He sighed and then continued. “And finally I thought about you.”

Scott pointed to himself and looked surprised. “Me?”

“I thought about what would happen if you lost Hale’s. I wanted to be the big hero and save yours and everyone else’s job. I thought how much better it would be if I came back with more money so…I let it ride. And then it was all gone.” Isaac hung his head when he finished.

Scott didn’t say anything. He put his hand over Isaac’s.

Isaac looked back at the office. Derek was just staring off into space. “He’s not going to care or understand why I did what I did. He’s not going to forgive me and I don’t know how to fix it.”

Scott squeezed his hand. “Derek’s never going to give up on you, Isaac, and neither will I. We’ll find a way to fix this. I promise.”

Scott spoke with such sincerity and was giving him his patented puppy dog look, that Isaac almost believed him.

~*~

Stiles almost threw down his broom in disgust. What was the point in cleaning? He had almost half a mind to quit right then and there, since there was no way he would work for Music Town. But, other than Derek, he’d been working there the longest and didn’t want to give up on the place while there was still a chance they could save it.

Stiles was still so angry. Surprisingly, he wasn’t even angriest at Isaac. Yeah, the jerkweed shouldn’t have taken the money, but this sale was mostly on Derek. He couldn’t believe he was giving up on the place so easily. And the way he announced it to all of them, was a shitty move even coming from Derek.

He couldn’t believe he’d wasted all of this time having a crush on someone who would do this to his loyal employees. Derek wasn’t the most demonstratively caring person on the planet, but he really did think Derek had cared about all of them, but if he did, he had a funny way of showing it.

Honestly, Stiles felt really pathetic. He’d had this ridiculous crush on Derek ever since he met him when Derek visited Scott at Stiles and Scott’s treehouse when they were ten. Stiles stopped sweeping and leaned against the broom. God, he’d had feelings for Derek for half of his life. He felt even sadder.

That was probably why he was practically a virgin. Well, that and the fact that his flirting technique included a combination of geeking out over his favorite bands, that’s when he could actually get his tongue to work, and literal flailing. But he was older now, a little more confident, maybe he could actually find someone and put Derek behind him.

He picked up a feather duster and started going over the racks of vinyl records looking for anyone to try to flirt with. After a minute, he settled on a pretty brunette at one of the listening booths. He dusted his way over there. He tried to be as subtle as possible. He leaned forward to see what she was listening to. Subtlety went out the window when he leant forward too far and practically fell on top of the girl.

He quickly jumped up. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

The girl looked a bit miffed, but waved off his apology and went back to listening to her music.

“I’m Stiles, by the way.”

The girl scrunched her face and took off the headphones. “What?”

“Stiles.” He gestured to himself.

“What’s a Stiles?”

“Me. I’m a…I’m Stiles.” He grinned.

The girl shrugged. “Oh.” She blew out a breath. “I’m Malia.”

“Oh, that’s too bad.” Stiles blurted out without thinking.

“What?” She looked like she was seriously contemplating decking Stiles.

Stiles rubbed at his temples. “I’m sorry. I was just thinking it was too bad because there are no songs named Malia, but I could write one. I’m in a band. Well, I will be in a band one day…soon.”

“Okay,” Malia drawled. She looked over Stiles’ shoulder. Stiles assumed she was attempting to map out a route to the exit or was trying to signal for help using her eyes.

“I’m not really a writer,” Stiles continued to babble. “But I could write something. It would probably go something like ‘Maliaaa’” Stiles screeched.

Malia flinched.

Stiles closed his eyes. He knew he was completely drowning, but he plowed on. “Because my band will have more of a metal sound. Do you like metal? Because I-”

Malia touched his arm. “I’m going to stop you right there. Clearly, you’re not very good at this and I have somewhere I gotta be, so…good luck next time.”

“Thanks.” Stiles said to her rapidly retreating back. He blew out a long breath. “I suppose that could have gone worse. I could have pissed myself, maybe that would have been a great conversation starter.” He slapped himself on the forehead. “Idiot.”

~*~

Isaac had been in more than his fair share of scrapes over the years, but this was the worst by far, primarily because he was still at a loss as to how to get out of it. He sat there thinking about every possible way to fix this, but the only outcomes he could see was either he or Derek going to jail, though he was starting to think that maybe that was what he deserved.

He leaned over and looked out at the floor. He smiled when he saw Scott at the register giving a customer his hundred watt smile. God, he had it bad for the guy. Maybe prison wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Maybe if he actually spent some time away from Scott he could get over him.

Isaac always tried to put on this act like he was so brave. From a young age on, he had gotten used to putting on a façade. He had always had to lie and cover up his father's abuse. He had to try and appear emotionless so no one could see the fear and the shame that he always felt.

His first friend, the first person who really could tell what was going on with him, was Scott. He didn't know how Scott was the only one who knew how to get through to him, but he never really questioned it because he always just felt so at ease with Scott.

Unfortunately, that all changed when he realized he was in love with him. He remembered the moment so clearly. Even though Isaac was so used to bottling his emotions, the first thing he wanted to do was tell Scott about it. But then he thought better of it.

The thought of telling Scott petrified him. Scott was the most important person in his life and the thought of jeopardizing that, of losing Scott was too much for him, so he kept his feelings inside.

The ironic part of that was that he felt he lost something with Scott anyway. He lost the most important aspect of their relationship - that ease and that trust with Scott. He felt like he couldn't truly be real with him anymore and that killed him.

But it was too late to change things now. Even if he stood a chance with Scott, he was already in love with Allison. She was perfect for him. She was the kind of person Scott deserved. For now, Isaac would just have to live with his feelings.

After indulging a few more seconds of perving on his best friend, Isaac tore his eyes away. He looked over by the racks of CDs and noticed something.

There was a short boy with brown hair, probably fourteen or fifteen, wearing an oversized red jacket. He kept his hands shoved in his jacket pocket and kept eyeing everyone around him with a shifty look on his face. Isaac had been working at Hale's long enough to know a shoplifter when he saw one.

Isaac slowly stood up. He turned his gaze to Derek's office. "Uh, Derek I'm getting up. Well, I've gotten up is more accurate."

Derek didn't acknowledge him. He had his head down and was grumbling to himself.

"Derek?" Isaac rubbed the back of his head and looked between Derek's office and at the would-be shoplifter. "My ass is falling asleep, so I'm gonna just..."

Derek still didn't look up.

Isaac thought it over briefly and picked up the couch cushions and walked out of the break room.

The first person he saw was Stiles, who chuckled when he looked up at him.

"I see you took Derek's words about not leaving the couch quite literally."

Isaac laid the cushions down. "Well, the cushions are the essence of the couch."

Stiles actually nodded in agreement.

Isaac continued to watch the young boy. He reached for a CD in the rock section and looked back at Scott and Lydia at the register.

Isaac leaned down and started to tie his shoes. "Any luck with your band?"

"Uh..." Stiles sounded taken aback. "Since when do you care about my plans?"

"I don't really." Isaac looked at him briefly. "Just trying to make idle conversation. Want everything to look normal."

Stiles rubbed his chin. "Well, you're acting weird, so check on the column of normal behavior."

Isaac ignored the jibe. "You should start with finding a name."

"I know that."

Isaac straightened up. "Maybe you should try using your real name." He shook his head. "Scratch that, probably wouldn't work."

"Wait, why wouldn't it... Hold on. Is that what this is about? Did Scott tell you my name?"

Isaac paused deliberately. He laid a hand on Stiles' shoulder. "No."

Stiles nodded. "Good."

Isaac slowly slid his hand off his shoulder. "But if it's weird, go with it. Always play with their minds."

With that he left Stiles behind and slowly made his way over to the kid in the over-sized jacket. He had made his way over to the Pop/R&B section. Isaac was in time to see him sneak something into his pocket.

Isaac leaned against a stack right next to the boy. "Can I help you with anything?"

The boy looked up at him with wide eyes. "What? No!"

Isaac nodded and followed him. The boy shot a few glances towards him. "That's a big coat you have on. Lots of pocket room."

The young boy bit his lip. He shrugged.

Isaac leaned in close. "The fat man walks alone."

The boy jumped back. "What? Are you some kind of psycho?"

He backed away slowly. When he got closer to the door, he ran out.

Isaac took the stairs to cut him off at the pass. Behind him he heard Stiles scream, "Shoplifter!!"

The kid barely had a head start on Isaac. He got to the outside stairs in the back alley and timed it so he could jump right in front of the kid.

To the boy’s credit, while he was spooked he kept his cool enough to avoid Isaac’s grab and took off through the back entrance of the store.

Isaac chuckled. What an idiot. But he was actually glad for this. He needed something like this - something fun and that he could help with.

He chased the young kid back through the CD racks and back to the front of the store.

"Isn't it customary to leave the scene after committing a crime?" Isaac heard Lydia say to Erica.

The boy looked behind him and saw Isaac right on his heels and yelped. He eluded Isaac's grasp and double backed through the store.

Isaac was tired of this and decided to cut the kid off at the pass.

"Attention Jackson Whittemore fans! To your left you'll see our employee, Isaac Lahey, chasing a wanton shoplifter." Lydia announced over the PA system.

Isaac ran across the street and hid behind a car. He saw the boy come flying around the corner. Isaac popped out just as the boy ran near him and he managed to clothesline the boy down to the ground.

"This young man will be caught, deep-fried in a vat of oil and served to our first hundred customers. Just another tasty treat from the gang at Hale Records." Lydia cackled over the speakers.

Isaac stood over the kid. "Guess you picked the wrong store to steal from." The irony of that statement was not lost on him.

~*~

Allison was just making her way back from lunch when she got to the break room and heard Derek on the phone with the cops. For a split second, she worried that Derek had decided to turn in Isaac.

But when she looked over at the couch Isaac was sitting down, not looking as if he was facing certain jail time. He was sitting next to some kid Allison had never seen before.

Derek pointed to the boy. "How old are you?"

The boy wrestled with Isaac and Scott, who each had a shoulder and were restraining him. "Old enough to kick your brain through your skull and splatter your brains on the wall."

Ah! Allison quickly got the picture. It'd been awhile since the store had a shoplifter. They'd never had one so descriptive though.

Derek looked unimpressed by the boy's "threat." "I don't know," Derek said into the receiver. "Probably thirteen or fourteen."

"What's your name?" Scott asked the squirming boy.

"Liam Gallagher." The boy sneered.

Isaac nodded. "No wonder you have such a bad attitude."

Despite what he did and the lip, Allison kind of felt bad for the kid. He looked so young and like he was trying to be so tough. Sometimes Allison wished she could act out like that.

"Why don't you shove those CDs up your butt?" Liam said to Derek.

"Because it would hurt a lot, Liam," Isaac declared.

"I think Music Town is torn on the whole revealing clothing issue," Lydia announced as she strutted into the room.

Everyone looked over at her.

Allison's jaw dropped and more than a few of the boys’ eyes popped out of their heads. Lydia was wearing the orange Music Town smock - and nothing else.

Liam looked like he was going to choke on his drool. Isaac covered his eyes.

Allison closed her mouth and started to grin. She really did admire how fearless Lydia was. Allison knew that she would never have the guts to do something like that.

Allison walked toward the stereo on the table and turned it on, grinning. "Revealing clothing." She and Lydia began to dance around.

"Lydia!" Derek barked. "Go and put some clothes on!"

"Uh, are we interrupting something?" An unfamiliar voice called out.

Everyone turned to the front and was once again shocked by what they saw.

Allison had no idea who the black woman with the long black hair and the confused expression was, but she certainly knew who the man standing behind her was - Jackson freaking Whittemore!

Allison couldn't help shaking and had to hold on to the chair in front of her.

Lydia walked right up to them. "Welcome to Music Town. How may I service you?"

Jackson actually chuckled, while the woman just gaped at Lydia.

Derek rushed to the front of the room. He took Lydia's arm and leaned down towards her ear. "Lydia, go and put some clothes on. Now!"

Lydia grinned at Jackson and turned and smiled at Allison before heading to the bathroom.

"I'm sorry about that," Derek said to the woman with Jackson.

Allison kept staring at Jackson. He kept touching the back of his head. His hair was a little shorter than normal, but he still looked gorgeous.

Allison flashed back to the last time she had talked to him. It was the end of the school year and Allison had actually worked up the nerve to ask him to sign her yearbook. He was graduating and she knew that would be her last opportunity.

But she couldn't help getting tongue tied. Jackson was actually really sweet about it. Before Allison could make her request, five other girls basically pushed her aside and Jackson flirted with all of them. Allison lost her nerve and just went off with her tail tucked between her legs. She always regretted not standing up for herself in that moment.

"I loved your last album!" Allison yelled out. Her cheeks reddened instantly. She was so embarrassed by how loud she was and how infantile she sounded.

It doesn't help when Liam bursted out laughing at that.

Stiles hit him in the back of the head and he quieted down.

"Everyone this is Braeden Matthews, Jackson's manager."

Braeden gave a short nod and wave.

"And clearly everyone knows," Derek swallowed before continuing, "the one and only Jackson Whittemore."

Jackson smiled and Allison actually felt weak in the knees.

"I have all of your albums." Allison felt like an idiot again, but she couldn't stop herself. But it was all more than worth it, when Jackson grinned at her.

Allison wondered if he remembered her.

"Hey, Jackson, what's up with your hair?" Isaac chimed in.

For a brief second, Jackson looked less than poised. Allison could tell he was clearly self-conscious about. She glared over at Isaac.

Jackson touched the back of his head. "Uh." He cleared his throat. "The stylist cut it too short." He looked over at the boys. "Sometimes a $100 dollar haircut isn't worth it. You might know that someday if you can ever afford that." He grinned.

All the boys, including Derek, grimaced and looked like they really, really wanted to do bad things to him.

"Well, it looks just awesome." Stiles clearly said sarcastically. He added a thumbs up.

Everyone offered their agreement.

"It looks fabulous," Derek said in the most robotic voice ever.

"I love it!" Allison added. It was partially to diffuse the tension and also because she couldn't hold it in any longer.

If she couldn't get it together, she didn't know how she was going to enact her plan and actually get the words out to ask Jackson to have sex with her. She was going to have to calm down.

Even though she felt nervous, seeing Jackson made her more determined than ever to go through with it.

~*~

This was truly a low moment for the store. If the store weren't facing almost certain sale to a crappy place like Music Town, Derek was sure having a wannabe rock star like Jackson would be the lowest moment. And with everything facing them, it was still debatable whether it wasn't.

The most horrible part about having him here was that the whole reason he had even agreed to this was to increase business for the store, to save it. Now that there might not even be a point, he was almost tempted to tell him to leave.

But given the store hadn't been this packed in years, and he was sure this mob of women - and a few guys - would kill him if all their waiting was for nothing. He held his tongue, though that was becoming incredibly difficult with Jackson's diva behavior. Currently, Jackson was refusing to sit down because he had some problem with the perfectly good chair they'd got for him.

Braeden leaned toward Jackson and whispered furtively. "What's wrong with the chair?"

Jackson looked at her quickly and then back at the gathering crowd of preening fans and offered a cheesy smile. "I don't like it," he said through clenched teeth.

Braeden closed her eyes. "There's nothing wrong with the chair. It's perfectly fine. Just sit down."

Jackson waved to the crowd. "No."

Derek rolled his eyes. Jackson truly was the same as he was in high school. He was a spoiled, arrogant jackass then and he was even more so now. He guessed it was refreshing that fame doesn't always change people.

Braeden threw Derek an apologetic look.

Without saying a word, Derek went to the back and got a chair, an oval one that Derek had always hated. It seemed the perfect fit for a pretentious asshole like Jackson. He got back to the front and swapped out the chairs.

Jackson just looked behind him with a raised eyebrow.

"Better?" Derek said with acid dripping from his words.

Jackson gave him a smarmy smile. "Yes. Thanks for being useful."

God, Derek wanted to wring his neck.

Braeden silently mouthed "thank you."

Derek nodded in her direction. He kind of felt sorry for her. He hadn't known her long, but she was way too nice to be working for such a jerk like Jackson.

~*~

Stiles rolled his eyes for the fourth time. "Derek must really hate us."

Scott grinned. "He doesn't hate us."

"Really?" Stiles pointed directly in front of them. "Why else would he have is on Jackson babysitting duty?"

Stiles watched a quivering curly-haired redhead walk up to Jackson's table. "I can't believe I get to meet Jackson Whittemore. You're, like, hotter than all the Backstreet Boys combined."

Stiles groaned. “Are you freaking kidding me?"

Scott elbowed him in the side.

Jackson briefly looked over his shoulder at them and glared. He turned back to the woman. "Who should I make this out to?"

"Kathy," the woman replied. "That's Kathy with a 'K.'"

Jackson scribbled out an autograph. "Thank you so much, Kathy with a K."

The woman giggled.

"I swear to God I'm going to reach over there and jab out my eyes with his pen," Stiles whispered in Scott's ear. "Or better yet, jab out his."

Scott chuckled quietly. "Just think, someday you'll have your band and girls will be throwing themselves at you."

Stiles nodded. "Girls with far better taste." He blew out a breath.

Jackson looked over at them again and grinned smugly. It was quite possible that Jackson actually remembered them. He seemed to be taking an immense satisfaction in rubbing his fame in their faces.

Then again it was quite probable that Jackson was just that much of a dickhead to everyone he deemed lower than him, which would probably be over half the population.

"Doesn't this bother you, Scott?" Stiles started in again. "Here we are, just standing around as if we don't exist, while Jackson has girls all around him acting as if he walks on water. It's like friggin' high school all over again."

Scott sighed. He put his hand on a Stiles' shoulder. "Of course it bothers me. Jackson's always been a snobby asshole. It drives me crazy that Allison actually thinks he's someone to admire. It drives me crazy that anyone thinks he's someone to admire." He shrugged. "But this is our job for today. We'll just have to settle for giving him the finger behind his back...and maybe poisoning his lunch."

Stiles and Scott laughed.

Jackson stared at them. "Can you boys keep it down?" He sneered on the word 'boys.'

Once he turned back around, both Scott and Stiles gave him the finger.

Stiles' attention was diverted when he saw Braeden and Derek coming in from the break room. They were laughing about something. They had their heads together real close.

Despite his best efforts - his completely bungled and tragic efforts - to stop this never ending crush on Derek and despite still being mad at him for giving up on the store; it still filled his stomach with knots watching them.

This felt especially stupid because it wasn't anything more than a little flirting and he'd watched Derek do a lot more than that with woman over the years. But it never really got any easier.

Scott bumped his shoulder against Stiles' shoulder. Stiles looked over at him with a half-hearted grin. "I'm okay, Scott."

Scott bumped his shoulder again anyway.

Stiles laughed. He looked at Derek and Braeden again. They were talking quietly and Derek had an uncharacteristic, but gorgeous, smile on his face.

Stiles cleared his throat. He jabbed his thumb in the direction of the break room. "I'm going to get something to drink."

Scott looked like he wanted to say something, but just nodded instead.

Stiles rushed off and pushed the door to the break room hard. Isaac and Liam's head popped up. "I couldn't take another second of the Jackson Whittemore love fest out there."

Isaac gave a somewhat sympathetic nod.

“It’s so unfair,” Stiles complained. “How does a guy like that sell millions of records? He sounds like crap. He’s not a real musician. I’m ten times the musician he is, but do I have people fawning all over me? No!” He sat down heavily in the red armchair next to the couch.

Scott walked in after a few minutes. “Stiles, you’re kind of missing out. There are a lot of cute girls out there.”

“What are you doing here then?” Stiles asked somewhat rudely. He certainly didn’t mean to take out his frustrations on Scott.

“Jackson needs water. Evian water, preferably,” Scott finished in a snotty voice, seemingly mimicking Jackson.

“We don’t have that,” Stiles said.

Scott walked towards the refrigerator. “Braeden said she brought some.”

“Then why do you have to get it? She’s his assistant, not you,” Stiles asserted.

“She’s not his assistant. She’s his manager. Besides, it’s our job to get Jackson whatever he asks. We’re supposed to “make him happy” according to Derek. It sucks, but what can you do.”

Scott found the Evian in the fridge and started to hurry back.

Stiles shot out his hand to stop Scott. “Let me ask you a hypothetical question. Axl Rose is your favorite musician, right?”

Scott nodded with a quizzical look. “Yeah, you know that. Is that the question?”

“No.” Stiles shook his head. “If Axl Rose were here, do you think he would get Jackson water?”

Scott moved his head slightly from side to side. Finally, he stopped. “I guess not.”

Stiles leaned forward and became more animated. “And if Jackson were stranded with his car on the side of the road would Axl help him out?”

Scott pondered this. He pursed his lips. “Does Axl have a jack?”

“No way, man!” Liam piped up. He grabbed an imaginary wheel. “Axl would speed up and run that sucker over. Rrrrr, pow!” Liam made exaggerated car noises.

Everyone looked at him strangely.

Isaac scrunched up his face and stared at Liam. “Where do you get this hostility from?”

~*~

Scott watched Liam as he was crouched on the floor and trying to pick up the quarters he had glued to the floor.

Liam grunted. “Who glued these quarters down?”

“I did.” Scott was sitting on the couch next to Isaac, still working on his drawing of Allison.

“What the hell for, man?” Liam asked with more than a little irritation.

“I don’t need to explain my art to you, Liam.”

Liam looked over his shoulder. “How exactly is that art?”

“You have to stand back and really appreciate the whole thing. It looks really beautiful, I think.” Scott shrugged.

Liam looked at him askance. “Are you mental?”

Isaac hit Liam’s chest. “Show some respect.”

Scott was used to that kind of reaction to his more abstract art projects. He knew that it was a little weird, but he really did like the way the quarters looked. He saw some things a little differently than others did.

“Do you make any other kind of art instead of just wasting money?” Liam asked. That earned him another gentle whack from Isaac.

“I make some more traditional art, too - portraits and things.”

“Are you any good?”

That was the million dollar question that Scott wrestled with. He constantly doubted whether he had any real talent, especially with the art school prospect that loomed over him.

Before he could answer, Isaac did. “He’s amazing!”

Scott smiled.

Isaac reached behind and pulled his wallet out of his pocket. He unfolded a small piece of paper really carefully. “Look at that.”

Liam reached over and took it. The seemingly permanent scowl disappeared from his face for a moment. “That’s really good.”

Scott leaned over to look at what it was when Liam handed it back to Isaac. Scott was surprised. It was a small portrait of Isaac he had done in charcoal a couple of years ago. It was the first one he had ever done. He’d studied Isaac for a while without his knowing and was inspired one day when a rare smile had graced his face. Scott couldn’t explain why it affected him so much, but he had to capture it. He had only showed it to Isaac when he had caught him working on it and demanded to see what it was.

Scott had been prepared to die of embarrassment, but Isaac had been really enthusiastic about it. It was after that Isaac had begun to really push him to pursue his art. Despite his positive response, Scott had never realized that Isaac had kept it.

Scott was still looking over Isaac’s shoulder when he looked up at him. “Why do you carry that around in your wallet?”

Before he could answer, someone walked in the room. It was Jackson’s manager, Braeden. She looked around hesitantly. “Derek said I could hang back her for a little while. Is that alright?”

“Well, Derek is the boss after all.” Stiles gestured to the room, welcoming Braeden in.

“Scott?”

“Yeah?” Scott answered Isaac.

“I’m feeling a significant lack of oxygen. Do you think you could back up a little?”

Scott did a bit of a double take and realized he was practically on top of Isaac. “Uh, sorry.” He sat back.

He and Isaac shared a few awkward glances.

Isaac cleared his throat. He picked up the CDs that Liam had tried to steal. “You have a pretty interesting taste in music. Metallica, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and…” He looked at the last CD and quirked his eyebrow at Liam. “Whitney Houston?”

“It’s for my boyfriend.” Liam shrugged one shoulder.

“I think someone with violent tendencies like you should probably try and listen to something calmer. How about some jazz? How about some classical?”

“How about you bite me?” Liam spit out.

“Did any of you listen to Jackson’s latest album?” Braeden suddenly asked.

Scott, Stiles, and Isaac shared awkward looks.

Liam laughed outright. “Isn’t his music teeny bopper type shit for girls?”

Braeden put her magazine aside. “Actually his music tested well amongst males 13 – 18.”

Isaac leaned forward. “Okay, but did you actually test the boys who didn’t have guns pointed at their heads?”

Stiles and Liam cracked up. Even Scott couldn’t help but laugh a little.

Boyd walked in and officially clocked in for work. “Hey, Isaac, I heard you got into a little trouble in Vegas.”

Scott noticed that Liam’s ears perked up at that.

Isaac put his fingers up. “Just a little.”

Boyd leaned against the couch. “A little? I heard-“

Scott interrupted. “Can I talk to you for a second?”

Boyd hesitated before he nodded. Scott and Boyd moved over to a private corner.

“What’s up?” Boyd asked. “Have you talked to Erica?”

Scott nodded slowly. “That’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about. Did you see what she did to her hair?”

Boyd shook his head.

“She cut it all off and she has this big bandage on her wrist.” Scott knew this wasn’t his business, but was really worried about her. “What did you do to her?”

“I didn’t do anything,” Boyd stammered. He slid a hand across his head, and if he had hair he probably would have tugged on it.

Scott felt bad for piling on him. “Look, just talk to her. I think she’s in real trouble.”

Boyd nodded.

Scott went over and sat back down next to Isaac.

Boyd still looked distracted as he walked through the room. He looked up and cocked his head to the side as he spotted Braeden. “Who are you?”

“I work for Jackson Whittemore,” Braeden answered.

Boyd nodded slowly and cracked a slow smile that turned into a chuckle.

Liam laughed loudly.

Braeden looked around the room. She took a deep breath and picked up her magazine. “I think I’ll wait in Derek’s office.”

“You don’t have to do that. He didn’t really mean anything by that.” Scott tried to explain.

Braeden didn’t say anything, but just walked up to Derek’s office.

Boyd looked around the room. “Did I say something wrong?”

~*~

Lydia watched Jackson with his fans and was flooded with memories of high school. Unfortunately, these were not all good memories. While she did have a crush on Jackson in high school, and he was still just as hot as ever, unlike Allison, Lydia never idealized Jackson. She saw him and all of his flaws. Maybe that was because she actually spent time with him.

Jackson could be mean, arrogant, selfish, petty, and thoughtless. She would have hoped Jackson might have mellowed, but he was still all of those things. Then again maybe that made sense since it hadn’t been that long since Jackson had graduated and now he was even more pampered as a famous rock star.

It’s not that Jackson was completely without his charms. He had a great smile and he was a smooth talker and knew when to flash his beautiful blue eyes and make the girls waiting in line feel like they were the only girl in the world, but every now and then he would lose his patience and completely forget to play the part of charming famous musician.

A young girl with brunette hair walked up to Jackson. She was frowning and practically threw the CD at Jackson.

He still smiled brightly at her. “Who should I make it out to?”

“Megan.”

“That’s a lovely name, Megan.”

“It’s not mine. This is for my twelve year old sister. I like more adult music.” Megan leaned against the table.

“Adult music? What do you like to kick back listening to a little Yanni?”

The girl just rolled her eyes.

Okay, maybe he was also a little funny, too.

Jackson scribbled out his name and threw the CD back at the girl.

She smirked as she picked it up and left.

Jackson leaned back and whispered to Lydia. “What a brat.”

Lydia grinned.

“Though if she were a few years older, I might not have a problem teaching her some manners.” He winked. “If you know what I mean.”

Lydia’s lip curled in disgust.

And now she could add gross to his list of negative traits.

Jackson shrugged. “What?”

Lydia just walked away.

~*~

Derek was surprised when he got to office and Braeden was holed up in there, sitting on his couch. “What are you doing in here? I told you it was okay if you stayed in the break area.”

Braeden sat up. “I know and I was. But the guys down there were saying some things about Jackson and I had to leave before I said something I regretted.”

Derek pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry they were rude to you.”

Braeden shook her head. “It’s not that at all. I actually agreed with them.”

Derek looked surprised. He sat down next to her. “Really?”

She chuckled. “Yeah. I hate Jackson, and worst of all, I hate his music.”

“I knew I liked you for a reason,” Derek teased.

Braeden laughed.

Derek’s smile slowly fell. “So why do you do it?”

“I don’t know.” Braeden shrugged. “This was never what I wanted to do with my life. You know when I was growing up I wanted to be a cop. Yet, somehow…”

“Somehow you became a babysitter for pampered celebrities,” Derek finished.

Braeden pursed her lips. “Yeah, somehow.”

“I didn’t go as far left field as you, but I used to want to be a musician. Now I manage a failing record store.” He threw up his hands and let them fall to his lap.

“How’d we end up here? Where’d we go wrong?”

Derek sighed. “I have no idea.” He glanced at her. “But at some point we have to be adults and figure out what it is we want and what’s going to make us happy.”

Braeden stared at him. After a few seconds, she suddenly stood up. “I think you’re right. I need to do something. Now.”

Derek furrowed his brow. “What does that mean?”

“It means I quit,” Braden stated.

Derek shot up. “What, now?”

“Yes. I’m not putting it off any longer.” Braeden headed for the exit.

“Wait, wait!” Derek caught up to her. “You can’t do this now. What the hell am I supposed to do with Jackson? I don’t have time to deal with this guy.”

Braeden shook her head. “I’m sorry, Derek.” She touched his arm. “I have every confidence in you. You’ll figure it out.”

She opened the door.

“Braeden, come on! Please, don’t-“

She shut the door behind her.

Derek put his face in his hands and groaned. The one time he has mature advice to give, and the one time someone actually listens, and it had to be now, on possibly one of the worst days of his life.

Derek knew that was it. If he didn’t go to jail for Isaac’s theft, he would go for killing Jackson freaking Whittemore. He couldn’t deal with him by himself. Not today. As if he needed one more thing to go wrong.

In his frustration, Derek almost reached for his boxing gloves. He didn't know what he planned on punching, but he needed to let out his anger somehow.

Then his eyes landed on his drumsticks and he decided to play to relax instead. He was in an AC/DC mode and puts on "If You Want Blood (You've Got It) to jam along to.

He felt free and at ease for the first time all day, probably even longer than that. It was times like these he regretted that he stopped playing. He almost got lost in the music, though not lost enough to not notice that the song was being blasted over the speakers throughout the store. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see some people out in the store dancing along to it.

It should probably bother him, but for the moment he liked that music had kind of brought everyone together and there's some fun in the store again.

Music had always been an important part of his life. His mother always loved all kinds of music and instilled in him a love that spanned across many genres. Some of his favorite memories as a kid was coming to Hale's and watching his mother start these impromptu concerts that brought everyone so much joy.

Derek smiled wide and jammed on his drums, enough to work up a sweat. Suddenly the music in the store stopped.

"Lord of the manor, King of the castle, the man himself, Peter Hale is here to see you, Derek," Lydia announced over the PA system.

Derek's eyes bulged and he dropped the drumsticks in a hurry. He ran a hand through his hair and wiped the sweat from his face.

What the hell was Peter doing here? He'd told Peter he'd handle the money situation. But, Peter being Peter, he must have decided to take control of the situation.

What the hell was he going to do about the money? Peter was most likely there to collect the money himself. He couldn't just hand him nothing. He had to do something or it would mean handing Isaac over. He couldn't do that.

It wasn't just his love for Isaac that made that scenario undesirable for him. He also had a healthy hatred for his uncle. He just knew Peter would get such a thrill at proving what fuck-ups he and Isaac were, though Peter really had no room to judge.

Derek had no to time to dwell on that as he rushed out to meet him before anyone else had a chance to say anything to him.

As he passed, he shared a look with Isaac. He didn't look as frightened as someone in his situation should - Scott looked more petrified than he did. But he knew Isaac well enough and could see some fear in his eyes.

"Hello, Uncle Peter," Derek panted as he met Peter as he was on his way to the break room.

Peter looked at him and wrinkled up his nose. "Why the hell are you sweating?"

"Uh, I was doing a little boxing," Derek lied. Peter had no use for music and he figured that lie would lead to less hassling from Peter.

Peter rolled his eyes. "Your job isn't to box, Derek." He touched the collar of Derek’s shirt and recoiled, wiping his hand against his leg. "Be more of a professional. You should be more of an example for these kids, than you following their lead."

"Thank you for that wise advice, Uncle," Derek gritted out.

Peter narrowed his eyes. "More importantly you're neglecting our very important guest." He gestured to Jackson, who was watching their whole interplay with amusement.

"Can't have that," Derek said in a sarcastic tone that would have made Stiles proud.

"And I want some fresh fruit for Mr. Whittemore," Peter looked over at Jackson with a smarmy expression that matched Jackson's.

Jackson sat back. "I also need more Evian water. These boys you asked to help me don't really seem to be doing their jobs right - or at all."

Derek briefly glared at him. "Fresh fruit and Evian water - I'll get right on that."

As they walked to the back, Peter leaned in closer. "Look, I don't give a shit about a punk like Jackson's needs, but I do need his connections." Peter took his arm and stopped him. "You should really be thinking about your future as well, given we finally get to unload this hovel soon."

They started walking again.

"Anyway, I'm here to deposit the money you, or one of your employees, didn't get around to dropping off at the bank."

It's Derek's turn to stop him. "I'll do it."

Peter looked at the hand Derek had against his chest. "No, you had your chance last night." Peter removed Derek's hand and walked into the break room.

"I'll go get it." Derek sprinted past his uncle. He shared another look with Isaac.

"So, Peter, you haven't met our new good friend Liam here," Isaac said. He successfully stalled Peter from following Derek.

Derek got back to his office and had to think fast. He spotted some flyers and took the money pouch and filled it up with the flyers. He looked the bag and pocketed the key.

He came out and Scott rushed over to him. "What did you do?"

"Don't worry. I handled it," Derek whispered. It was a temporary stall at best, but hopefully it would buy them some time.

"So now we're just waiting for the cops to show up and pick him up." Isaac was finishing telling Peter.

"I'm intrigued. I'm spellbound," Peter said drily.

Derek smacked the pouch against Peter's chest. "If there's nothing else..." He eyed the door.

Peter backed out of the room. "Take care of our guest and think about what I said." He turned and left the room.

Nobody breathed a sigh of relief. Isaac just eyed Derek warily. "I don't know what you did, but you know Peter's going to find out eventually and be right back."

"You think I don't know that?" Derek huffed. He wished for just a moment that he didn't and he could count that as a win.

"What are you going to do?" Isaac pushed.

"I don't know!" Derek yelled. "But given that you're the one who got us into this mess, maybe you should be coming up with another bright idea to get us out of this."

"Uh, what's going on?" Liam butted in.

Derek almost forgot he was there. "It's none of your business." He looked over at Scott. "Get back to work."

Derek stormed off and slammed the door to his office.

~*~

Since Stiles was having trouble fixing the sign, Scott decided to take a crack at it. It was also a good chance to get away and really think about things.

It was getting close to one o'clock and he hadn't thought of how to re-declare his love to Allison. He at least knew it had to be different than the first time it happened, which was a sort of clichéd moment.

He had taken Allison to his senior prom and they were about to have sex for the first time that night. Right before she took her shirt off, he just blurted out "I love you." Allison hadn't said it back right away, and the mood seemed ruined after that. Even though she’d said it back eventually, they never ended up consummating their relationship.

He really hoped this time she'd say it back quicker.

It shouldn't be too hard to come up with something to say. He just had to think about why he loved her; tell her everything he loved about her. It seemed simple enough.

"Uh, Allison, you know that feeling you get right after you take a nice, hot bath. Well, that's how you make me feel." Scott thought back over what he said and slapped his forehead. "You make me feel like a bath?"

Scott paced.

"Allison, you're so beautiful and funny and smart. I was really happy when I was with you. I think we could be happy again. It could be like it was when we were in school." Scott scratched his head. "That's not it."

He crouched down. "I bet Isaac would know what to say." He sighed. Thinking of Isaac just made him think about what just happened with Peter. It was great that Derek had found a way to stall, but Isaac was right, what happened when Peter figured things out.

It was like Isaac was living on borrowed time and the longer it took for anyone to come up with a plan, the more he feared the worst for Isaac.

He'd promised Isaac they could come up with a way to fix things. He'd never broken a promise to Isaac and he wasn't going to start now.

~*~

Erica pushed down hard on the button maker and eyed her handiwork. She smiled at the button in her hand. She couldn't really remember why she'd started to make buttons, but it was a fun mindless activity and, as a bonus, provided an extra source of income for her.

She put the last button - that just read “stupid" - in her tin of buttons and started on the next one.

Someone sat down beside her. She didn't have to look to see who it was. She sniffed and caught a whiff of a combination of cologne, Speed Stick deodorant, and Doritos. It was definitely Boyd's signature smell.

"I like the hair or I guess lack of hair would be a better way to put it." He started nervously.

"Thanks." Erica tried to exhibit as little emotion as possible.

Boyd tentatively put a hand on her knee and she flinched. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for that and I'm sorry for last night."

Erica shook her head. "It was my fault."

"It wasn't," Boyd spoke up quickly. "I shouldn't have pushed you for a stronger commitment. I said we could go at your pace and I meant it."

Erica glanced at him for a quick second. "You gave it your best shot, Boyd. It just wasn't meant to be."

"It doesn't have to be that way. We can keep going. I care about you. I want to know what's going on with you." Boyd looked down at her wrist.

Erica let out a mirthless laugh. "You think this was because of you, don't you?"

Boyd shrugged uselessly.

"Don't worry. You don't have to feel guilty. This wasn't about you. Not only you anyway," Erica muttered.

"Erica-"

Erica interrupted him. She hated how bad this was obviously making Boyd feel and she hated even more that she didn't know how to stop it. She hated that she wouldn't, or couldn't, let him in. "Look, Boyd, my life sucks in general. My mom is never around. I hate being sick. I'll soon be out of a job. You don't need my crap in your life. Just walk away."

"Erica, please-"

"Just go!" Erica shouted.

Boyd got up and slowly walked away.

Erica wanted to cry, but she refused. She knew if she started she might not ever stop. Instead she slammed down on the button maker and made another one.

~*~

Isaac was trying to put all thoughts of the money and Peter and what he would do when he found out it was gone. He was trying to think of happier things. He had just started to replay an episode of Ren & Stimpy in his head, when Scott suddenly grabbed his hand and dragged him into the bathroom.

Isaac had several fantasies that had started out in the exact same manner, though in most of them Scott's eyes were filled with lust, and not panic and worry.

Isaac put his hormones in check. "You do remember that going to the bathroom is not a two person job? Well, not usually," he quipped.

"Shut up," Scott spit out.

Isaac was taken aback with his brusqueness.

Scott looked a bit surprised as well. "I'm sorry. I'm just really worried. What's Peter going to do when he realizes the money is missing?"

"Have a coronary and drop dead, hopefully." Isaac was only half kidding.

"When he realizes you took the money he's going to have you arrested. That asshole has just been waiting for the chance to cause trouble for you."

Isaac loved how fierce Scott got when he was in protective mode. It was really sexy.

"As much as we all hate Peter, he's not to blame here. I was the one who stole nine thousand dollars. I did this to myself."

Scott frowned; even he couldn't argue with that. So he hugged Isaac instead.

Isaac was startled for a moment and stiffened. It wasn’t the first time Scott had hugged him. After his father taught him to mistrust the capacity of anyone to touch him without wanting to cause him pain, Isaac rarely liked to be touched by anyone. It probably made Derek the perfect guardian for him, since he was definitely not a very touchy feely person.

Scott on the other hand was a very different story. But to Scott’s credit, he understood that it made Isaac uncomfortable and never touched him without his permission. In fact, Isaac was the first one to initiate that kind of contact between them.

One summer when they were fourteen Isaac had gone over to Scott’s house. He had wanted to say good-bye because Scott was going to visit his estranged father for a few weeks. This wasn’t something Isaac was looking forward to. He’d really gotten used to having Scott around and would miss him while he was gone. But he was happy for his friend as well. This had been such a big deal to Scott, since it had been over a year since he’d even seen his father.

When he got to Scott’s house, he could tell something was up since Melissa had been screaming at someone over the phone and looked red-faced and distracted when she opened the door. Isaac got to Scott’s room and Scott had his back to him. He had been lying down in bed. When Isaac called out to him, it took him a few moments to turn around.

Isaac could instantly tell that Scott had been crying. His eyes were as red as Melissa’s were. Scott valiantly tried to play off the hurt as he explained that his father had cancelled the trip and had told Melissa he wasn’t sure when he would be able to see Scott. Isaac’s heart had ached for him. He recognized the way Scott was trying to mask the hurt and pretend that he was okay. It was how he spent most of his days. It was the only way to not let anyone know what his father was doing.

Isaac hated seeing that look on someone as sweet as Scott. He wanted to do something to make it better, but didn’t know what to do. Without really thinking about himself and his hang-ups about it, he found himself leaning over and he wrapped his arm around Scott. For a second, Scott had just blinked up at him in surprise. After that, he leaned against Isaac and let the tears fall.

After that Scott tried not to go overboard with the hugs, but he became much more open about offering them to Isaac if he felt the situation warranted. With everything that had been going on that day, Isaac was sort of surprised he held out for that long before he gave him one.

Isaac finally returned the hug when he tentatively wrapped his arms around Scott. The hug went on for a lot longer than Isaac felt was normal, though he supposed that was because he was usually the one who pulled back first.

Another second went by and Scott started to pull away, but to the surprise of both of them, Isaac pulled him back in before Scott could get away. It wasn't until that moment that he realized how much he had needed the hug.

Scott didn't protest and just held onto Isaac tighter. When he slowly combed his hand through Isaac's hair, Isaac couldn't help but sigh.

It was that moment the door to the bathroom opened. Scott and Isaac slowly turned their heads to see Stiles giving them a strange look.

Scott and Isaac slowly separated. Stiles smirked and crossed his arms in front of his chest.

Scott shrugged. "What, a guy can't hug another guy in the bathroom?"

"No," Stiles replied. He seemed more amused than anything else.

Isaac still felt a little awkward and pushed past Stiles. When he looked up, Liam was standing close to the bathroom and giving him an odd look. Isaac didn't know if he saw him and Scott hugging and was reacting to that.

For a second, he worried that Liam had overheard his and Scott's conversation. He and Scott had been whispering, but if Liam had been lurking by, it was possible he heard something.

Isaac walked up to him. "Is there something wrong?”

Liam cocked his head to the side. “What could possibly be wrong? I got knocked out by a skinny beanpole while stealing and now I'm being forced to wait for the cops to haul my ass to jail. Everything's just bitchin'." Liam gave them a half-hearted thumbs up.

He walked over to the couch and sat down heavily.

Isaac went and sat down next to him. “Despite the malicious, and untrue, beanpole comment I’m going to give you some advice.”

“That would be awesome.” Liam twisted around and leaned against the couch. “Who better to give me advice on how to really succeed than a guy who works at a record store?”

Isaac ignored his barbs. “I don’t know anything about succeeding. I do know how to screw-up...royally and I can tell you that you certainly don’t want to end up like me.”

Liam nodded toward him. “Really? It doesn’t seem like you have it so bad.”

“Sure, I’ve got looks and charm and a great sense of humor.” A slow, sad smile spread on his face. “I was an orphan by the time I was fifteen. I’ve bounced around from foster home to foster home. I’ve been in all sorts of trouble and I’ve been in juvie before.”

Liam’s mouth parted slightly and he finally looked like he was taking Isaac seriously. “How’d you end up here then?”

Isaac looked behind him at Scott. “I’ve had some friends help me out.”

Scott sat behind him on the arm of the couch. He didn’t say anything, but put his arm on Isaac’s shoulder.

Isaac looked back at Liam. “Do you have any friends like that in your life?”

Liam looked down and rubbed the back of his neck. “My boyfriend Mason. He’s a really good person. I just don’t always listen to him.”

“If you don’t want to end up in jail, maybe you should try it,” Isaac said. He laughed and looked up at Scott. “And I should probably take my own advice.”

Scott smiled and nodded.

Liam opened his mouth to speak but before he got anything out, someone walked through the door.

Isaac saw Liam's eyes bulge and turned his attention to the door. There were two police officers - one a short black woman with black hair and the other a balding man of average height.

Liam, Isaac, and Scott all stood up.

The cops sauntered over and stood in front of Liam and Isaac.

"Is this the thief?" The woman asked.

Scott took Isaac's hand and squeezed it. Isaac looked down at their joined hands briefly.

No one said anything.

The woman looked at all of them. "Someone called about a boy shoplifting in the store?"

"Oh, right." Stiles blew out a breath. He pointed at Liam. "That would be him."

Isaac was surprised at how relieved Stiles sounded. If he didn't know better, he would have thought Stiles cared about what happened to him.

The male officer went toward Liam and started to handcuff him and read him his rights.

Liam's mouth gaped open and he turned panicked eyes to the boys. "Don't let them do this to me!"

Isaac wanted to say something, but there was nothing to be done to stop this.

"Which one of you was the one that apprehended the suspect?" The female took out a small notebook.

"I did," Isaac spoke up.

"Can you tell me again what happened?"

Isaac sighed. "It wasn't much. I spotted Liam acting suspiciously. I went over to him and saw him slip a CD into his pocket and started to talk to him. He got spooked and ran. I went after him and finally caught him and brought him back here."

The woman nodded. "Okay."

"This is bullshit!” Liam screeched. He pointed at Isaac. “He practically knocked me out! I’m a minor. Isn’t that, like, assault? Shouldn’t you arrest him?”

The two officers just shared a look of indifference and ignored Liam’s protests.

Derek walked into the room from the back door. He saw the cops and immediately stiffened. “What’s going on?”

"It seems the long arm of the law has come to embrace our good friend Liam here." Stiles filled him in.

"How could you let them do this to me after what you did?" Liam said as he looked directly at Isaac.

Isaac looked a bit confused.

Liam glared at the cops. "If you're going to arrest me for stealing, then you need to arrest him to." He gestured his head toward Isaac.

The cops' heads swiveled toward Isaac.

Isaac shook his head.

"Tell them, Derek!" Liam pleaded.

Derek shrugged. "I don't know what he's talking about." He turned to the officers. "Do you need anything from me?"

"No. We got a statement from Mr. Isaac over here," the woman said.

"Mr. Isaac?" Liam threw his head back in disgust. "Are you kidding me?" He looked at Derek. "Isaac steals nine thousand dollars and you don't do dick to him. I just took a couple of CDs."

The cops started to lead him away.

"Isaac, come on I thought we were friends!"

"Don't drop the soap, Liam!" Stiles called out.

"You know what? Screw you guys! I'm going to get you back for this! You'll be sorry!" Liam's last parting shot was almost swallowed by the door shutting in his face.

After an awkward pause, Derek and Stiles left. Isaac sank down onto the couch and put his head in his hands. He slowly looked over at Scott. "I do feel sorry for the kid."

Scott nodded. "Me, too."

"Scott, you need to brace yourself because those cops are going to be back for me next time."

Scott knelt down beside him. "No."

Isaac rubbed his forehead. "Scott, you said it yourself. When Peter finds out the money is gone and Derek tells him what I did, he's going to have me arrested." Isaac exhaled shakily. "I'm getting really scared."

Scott took his face in his hands. "Derek will save you. I know it."

Isaac just looked at him sadly. He's not surprised Scott would think that. It was Scott who got Derek into the Isaac saving business after all.

After Isaac had been bounced from his third foster home, he told Scott he was considering running away. A frightened Scott had turned to his surrogate big brother Derek and convinced him to take Isaac in.

From that point, Scott and Derek took turns trying to save Isaac, but Isaac knew that had to stop.

Isaac pulled away from Scott. "How do you see this playing out, Scott? Is Derek supposed to fall on his sword for me yet again and tell Peter he took the money? And then he goes to jail?"

Scott shook his head. "No." He stared up at the ceiling and looked as if he was trying to come up with something. He finally looked back at Isaac. "I don't have a record. Maybe if I tell them-"

Isaac knew where he was going with this and refused to let him even complete the thought. He took hold of Scott's shoulders. "Are you out of your freaking mind? If you think there's any way I'd let you jeopardize your future to save my ass, you're crazy!"

Scott stood up. "You didn't even let me finish."

Isaac stood up too and got right into Scott's space. "And you're not going to." He gently took Scott's hands. "Listen to me. It's not Derek's job to save me anymore and it's not yours. This is my problem and I need to find some way out of it. You're going to have a great future, Scott. Please promise me you're not going to do anything stupid to help me."

Scott hesitated.

"Scott?"

Scott closed his eyes and finally relented. "I promise."

Isaac felt relieved. Scott had never broken a promise to him and he knew he never would.

~*~

Derek walked the floor of the store and tried to make sure the customers in the listening booths weren't doing anything against store policy.

He passed one booth and saw a couple who were practically dry humping. He tapped on the glass window and when he got their attention, wagged his finger at them.

He didn't know when he'd turned into everyone's dad. He supposed it was fitting that it seemed to happen after he took Isaac in. His mother had just died and he'd taken on running the record store.

He knew taking in Isaac meant a lot of responsibility, but he thought it was worth it. Isaac was a troubled kid, but Derek knew he was also a good kid who needed someone to finally give him a real break.

Derek had also figured that since Isaac was almost sixteen at the time that raising him for a few years wouldn't be too difficult, but boy was he ever wrong.

Isaac and Derek found a way to bond, but it never completely fixed Isaac or took away his problems. Isaac kept testing the limits over and over again. It was almost like he was daring Derek to give up on him like everyone other than Scott had. But he never did.

Even when Derek had finally kicked Isaac out, it wasn't to punish him. He truly thought he was doing what was best for him.

When he'd hired the kids to work at the store, he'd never thought he'd have a relationship with any of them, besides Scott and Isaac. But the more he was around them, and came to know them and love them, the more responsible he felt for all of them.

It was a hard balance to maintain. Because he was their boss, he wasn't exactly their friend and he wasn't their parent, either. Still he felt it was his job to protect them, but lately he felt like he was failing miserably at it.

As if on cue, he spied Erica sitting in a corner by herself. He'd heard from Scott that Erica might be in some serious trouble. He felt really bad that he'd been so caught up in the Isaac drama that he hadn't reached out to her yet.

He crouched down beside her. She briefly looked up, but didn't take her headphones off or stop working on what looked like her taxes.

"Taxes?" He pointed at the paperwork.

Erica slid the headphones off. "What?"

"Are you doing your taxes?" He repeated.

"My mom's."

Derek nodded. He grasped for a way to sensitively mention the bandage around her wrist. "Uh, I know it doesn't always seem like it, but you can talk to me. No matter what it's about."

Erica chuckled. "Are you trying to fix me, Derek?"

Derek held up his hands. "No, but I want to help. Can I maybe call your mother?"

"That would be great. If you reach her, please let me know where she is, because I haven't seen her in ages."

Derek was at a loss as to how to respond to that. He really loathed some of these parents. Other than Scott's mother and Stiles’ dad, there didn't seem to be a decent one in the bunch. No wonder he had to try and parent some of the kids.

Erica's frown softened. "Derek, I do appreciate the concern." She smiled slightly. "Thank you."

Derek patted her knee awkwardly. "You're doing a great job."

Erica just nodded and put her headphones back on.

Derek got up. He wished that he could think that helped at all, but he knew it would take a lot more than that.

~*~

Stiles was finally having a little fun. Since everyone except Scott always had a problem with his working on his music, especially his singing, he decided to do some practicing up on the roof.

Instead of his usual metal songs, he was working on a power ballad. He figured it would be a great way to woo in some girls, maybe some guys.

He was really getting into it and singing to an imaginary crowd. He was desperately trying not to imagine singing to one tall, broody, and handsome figure when he heard something he’d never heard before when it came to his singing...clapping. He whirled around. Derek was leaning against the door.

Derek stopped clapping and walked toward him. “That was interesting.”

Stiles tried to control his heart rate and chuckled breathlessly. “You caught me doing my best Extreme imitation.”

“It’s a little different than your usual...singing.”

“Wow, you said that without putting quotes around singing.”

Derek laughed.

Stiles couldn’t help always being impressed when he managed to get Derek to crack a smile.

“It’s not your usual type of music.” Derek stepped toward the damaged sign and looked at it.

“I thought I would try to broaden my horizons a little bit. Might help me increase my appeal,” Stiles explained.

“Are you trying to appeal to anyone in particular?” Derek looked over at him.

Stiles averted his gaze. “It’s not for you if that’s what you were thinking, ego maniac.”

“I didn’t say anything about me. That’s on you.”

Stiles rolled his eyes, though Derek did have a point. Stiles sat down on the ground and looked up at Derek. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

Derek looked down. When Stiles opened his mouth, but again didn’t say anything, Derek turned to him and crossed his arms in front of his chest. He just glared at Stiles.

Stiles finally noticed and raised an eyebrow in question. “What?”

“If you have something to say, just spit it out. And you know you’re probably not going to get an offer like that from me again, so you probably should jump on it.” Derek sat down beside him.

Stiles decided to take Derek up on his offer. He took a deep breath. “Do you really think I’m untalented?”

Derek looked taken aback. “What?”

“You know, you’re always making fun of the music I like and telling me to shut up when I sing.” Stiles wrung his hand together and couldn’t look Derek in the eyes.

He hated the vulnerable, almost petulant, tone of his voice. It annoyed him how much Derek’s opinion meant to him, but he couldn’t help that it was important to him.

Derek smiled briefly and then his mouth formed a thin line. “Stiles, the kind of music you listen to doesn’t really appeal to me. And, yes, sometimes your singing really annoys me, but you know me, everything annoys me.”

Stiles and Derek chuckled together.

“But to answer your question - no, I don’t think you’re without talent.” The sincerity in Derek’s voice was unmistakable.

Stiles managed to keep in check the huge grin that wanted to split his face wide open.

“Starting this band really means a lot to you, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Stiles nodded slowly. “I’ve probably loved music since before I could talk.” He grinned. “Probably since before that.”

Derek pulled back and cocked his head to the side. “How is that possible?”

“My mother used to play music for me through the womb. She always used to joke that she played me so much Ozzy Osbourne that I came out singing “Mama, I’m Coming Home.””

Derek laughed. “She liked that type of music? So, that’s where you get it from.”

Stiles smiled, filled with warm memories of his mother. He watched his mother die at a young age and as much as he loved her, thinking of her sometimes was bittersweet, but this was definitely not one of those times. “She was a big hard rock fan, though she also really loved country, which I always thought was a weird combination.”

“That’s not as weird as my mother’s taste in music. One second she was listening to reggae and the next she’d play some Beethoven,” Derek said with a wistful look on his face.

“This store meant a lot to her, didn’t it?” Stiles didn’t ask to needle Derek about his letting the store go, but he really hoped that Derek might remember how much the store meant to him and his family.

“Yeah.” Derek scrubbed a hand down his face. He stood up and walked toward the Hale Records sign. “I wish I knew how to save this place. If my mother were here...if she were here she’d know what to do. If she were here, this wouldn’t be happening. I feel like I’m letting her down.”

Stiles got up and put his hand on Derek’s shoulder. “I don’t think that’s true. You’ve kept this store in your family when everyone else wanted to just give up on it. I’m sure you’ve done everything she would have wanted. I think she would have been proud of you.”

Derek turned around and stared at Stiles. “Thank you.” He briefly patted Stiles on the back. “I think your mom would be happy you’re making the kind of music she loved.”

Stiles sighed. “That’s what I’m hoping.”

Derek rubbed the back of his neck. “Look, Stiles, I’m sorry about the way I’ve teased you about getting your band together. I never knew how serious you were about it. And, I admit, I have a hard time seeing you as some sexy rock star.”

Stiles touched his chest. “I’m offended,” he said in mix of mock outrage and true annoyance.

Derek shrugged. “I’m sorry. I just still see you as that awkward, spastic kid I met.”

It wasn’t exactly a surprise for Stiles to hear, but he knew he had to change Derek’s mind. As much as he was trying to get rid of his crush on Derek, he wondered if there was any way to get Derek to see him differently. Maybe if he did, he had an outside shot with Derek.

As he took a deep breath, Stiles put aside every single one of his nerves. He stepped closer to Derek.

Derek quickly looked him up and down.

“I’ve grown up a lot, Derek,” Stiles said in a far deeper voice than usual. He decided to roll the dice and take it a step further and put his hand on Derek’s side. “I think you’d be surprised at how mature I can be.”

Derek looked from Stiles’ hand on Derek’s side to his face and back again. Stiles wasn’t sure if he was just startled or was into it or thinking of breaking off his hand.

Before he contemplated that further, he decided to leave while he still had all of his limbs intact. He walked away with a casual strut which he hoped look sexy. As he got closer to the back door, he took a quick look behind him. Derek was watching him walk away...and he looked intrigued!

Don't trip. Don't trip. Don't trip. He kept thinking. He managed to get through the door without tripping or flailing or any embarrassing whoops of joy. When he closed the door behind him, he actually did a happy dance, as he internally screamed.

Maybe his crush wasn't so hopeless after all.

~*~

Lydia watched Allison watching Jackson from behind the register. Lydia was partially glad that Allison didn't have to witness any of Jackson's troubling behavior. He was continuing to make a strong case for having a split personality.

Lydia mostly remained stuck on Jackson babysitting duty. Scott and Stiles continued to try and avoid any contact Jackson and she couldn't really blame them. Jackson seemed to take a perverse pleasure in rubbing their noses in his fame and popularity.

Since Lydia and Allison were the only ones who could tolerate Jackson, it made sense that they saw to his every need.

Lydia debated on what, if anything, she should tell Allison. She really didn't want to shatter Allison's illusions about Jackson. But, more importantly, Lydia didn't want her best friend to make a big mistake with Jackson.

Lydia waffled on what to do because Jackson wasn't a complete waste of space. He'd been quite charming and nice to Lydia. Though it bothered a little that Jackson seemed to not recognize her at all. They'd only hooked up briefly - it wasn't exactly a love story for the ages - but Lydia always liked to think she was memorable.

Lydia's attention returned to Jackson and his fans when a short, older woman with pale blond hair walked up to Jackson's table. She was belting out "Say No More (Mon Amour) in a full operatic voice.

Lydia had to turn her face to keep from bursting out laughing. Jackson looked dumbstruck as he watched the lady, while signing his name to her CD. Other than to give her name, she said nothing, and just stared at Jackson.

"Have a nice day," Jackson said in a monotone voice.

The lady just beamed at him before she took back her CD. Thankfully, she didn't sing on her way out.

Jackson swiveled in his chair and shared a smile with Lydia.

"Doesn't she look just like Mrs. Crenshaw, that lady who taught Home Ec at Beacon Hills High?" Jackson said as he looked behind him at the departing woman.

Lydia nodded slowly. "Oh, right!" She chuckled. "She really does." Lydia thought back on her old teacher. "She really didn't like me. She always said my short skirts were too slutty. 'That's the kind of clothes that gets boyfriends, but not friends. Don't you want friends?'"

Jackson waved his hand. "What did she know? I thought your skirts were great."

"Thanks." Lydia held up her finger. "Wait, that means you remember me from high school?"

Jackson turned back to his fans. "Of course." He leaned back. "You were the hottest freshman I'd ever made out with."

Lydia perked up.

After he signed a quick autograph, he leaned over to whisper. "You look even better now." He caressed her hand.

Lydia swallowed thickly. Jackson was pouring on the smarm, but God help her, she was falling for it. She looked up and when she saw Allison watching them curiously, she dropped his hand.

Lydia cleared her throat. "Do you need more water?"

Jackson briefly looked at his full Evian bottle.

"You do, okay." Lydia walked away before Jackson could respond.

She tried to shake off whatever feelings he had just elicited. Lydia had her fair share of guys over the years, but none had made her feel the way Jackson had in just seconds.

Lydia tried to remind herself of what a jackass Jackson could be. When that didn't work she had to remind herself that Jackson was off limits for one very important reason - Allison.

~*~

It was almost time to implement her plan. She just had to take care of one small, but crucial, detail.

Allison took a deep breath and walked into Derek's office. "Hey, Derek! Best boss in the world!" She said overly cheerful.

Derek barely looked up, just quirked an eyebrow.

"It's getting close to lunchtime. I was wondering if I could bring Jackson his lunch?"

"Boyd will be taking Jackson his lunch," Derek answered.

Allison looked horrified. "Boyd?!" Allison stepped closer to Derek's desk. "Derek, you know Boyd will just insult Jackson right to his face."

"I don't care if Boyd sticks an M-80 up his butt and lights it. In fact, I hope he sticks one up mine - it might be an improvement."

Allison edged closer. "Derek, I want to bring Jackson his lunch."

"Boyd is."

Another step closer. "I need to bring him his lunch."

Derek finally looked up fully. "Boyd is," Derek stressed.

Allison slammed her hands down on the table. "I'M BRINGING JACKSON HIS LUNCH!"

Derek's eyes widened. "Okay, sure."

Allison smiled brightly. "Thanks, Derek. Thanks a lot."

Allison got to the small room that Derek had set up for Jackson’s lunch. It used to be a storage room for boxes. Allison turned up her nose. This didn’t seem nearly spacious and fancy enough for someone of Jackson’s status.

She got some roses and put it in a vase to spruce up the room at least a little bit. She brought out the tray of food and lit a candle. After that she found a small stereo and tried to find some good mood music. She put on some music from The Cranberries. Before she knew it she got lost in the music and started to dance. The sensual sound of the music was definitely getting her in the right mood for what she was about to do.

As she started to run her hands up and down her body, she heard Stiles’ voice and turned the music off and whirled around just as the door opened. For the first time ever, she was glad for how loud Stiles could be at times.

“We all sincerely hope that you enjoy your accommodations for lunch.” Stiles walked ahead of Jackson. “We know you’re used to caviar and champagne, but we’re hoping fish sticks and Pepsi will be just as good.”

Allison rushed forward. “Ha! He’s kidding.”

“You’re right, you’re right. It’s Coke and not Pepsi,” Stiles continued.

“Okay, that’ll be all Stiles.” Allison started to push him out of the room.

“But wait, I’m not done-”

“Yeah, you are. Bye.” Allison said as she shoved him all the way out and slammed the door.

Jackson chuckled as he made his way over to the table. “I don’t know how you put up with him.”

“He has his charms.” Allison leaned against the desk. She knew she should have practiced more seductive poses as she tried to figure out what to do with her arms.

“I’ll take your word on that.” Jackson sat down. He took the silver cover off the food and sniffed it. “Ah, that smells good.”

“Not caviar, but we hope the steak will do. I got it rare like you like it.” Allison dared to open her legs a little more. She felt so awkward, but she tried to put that aside.

“Thank you.” Jackson sounded sincere and Allison was thrilled. “I’m starving. It may not seem like it, but dealing with adoring fans is hard work.”

“I’ll bet,” Allison replied.

Jackson cut into his steak and took a bite. He looked up at Allison and grinned.

“Do I look familiar at all?” Allison leaned forward a little, but decided that wasn’t sexy and scooted closer to Jackson’s table.

Jackson swallowed. “Should you? Did you go to Beacon Hills High?”

Allison nodded. “I did. I remember you from school. You were like this Greek God to everybody. You were by far the most popular guy in school.”

Jackson smiled and shrugged slightly. “Well…”

“I had such a crush on you.”

“You’re a sweet girl.” Jackson winked at her.

“I’m not as sweet as you think.” Allison gulped. This was the moment - it was now or never.

Allison took off her top. She hoped Lydia’s lucky bra was working its magic. She looked up at Jackson through her lashes and he did seem intrigued.

“Are you sure about this?” Jackson lazily took another bite of his steak.

“I’ve never been surer of anything in my life.” Allison unbuttoned her short plaid skirt and took it off.

Jackson leaned back and looked her up at down. He started to unbutton his pants with a grin. “Alright, you’re cute enough. Why not?” He unzipped his pants.

Why not? That was his response to her overture? Allison hadn’t expected him to fall over himself complimenting her or to act as if he was in love with her, but she wanted something a little more enthusiastic than “why not.”

Jackson picked up some blue cheese dressing and gestured to his crotch suggestively. “You don’t mind, do you?”

Oh, my God. It definitely hit Allison that this was clearly not the perfect moment she’d always dreamed of. This was not the man she wanted to share her first time with. She remembered idolizing Jackson in high school. She thought he was this amazingly talented and special person. The reality was horrifically sobering - he was just a gigantic douchebag. And she had just offered herself up to him like some object. She was disgusted with herself and Jackson.

She threw Jackson a disgusted look and picked up her skirt. She buttoned it as fast as possible. With one last withering look directed at Jackson, she bolted from the room.

She was breathing heavily as she made it to the roof. After she closed the door, she slumped down. She took out the gold vial she had snatched from her purse in the break room. She normally didn't take more than one on any given day, but she decided this occasion called for two pills. After she swallowed it down, she closed her eyes and started to cry.

~*~

Scott looked at the clock on the wall. He gulped when he saw that it was 1:20. It was almost time. He needed to find Allison and get her alone, though maybe he should practice a little more. He hadn’t gotten very far when he’d practiced earlier.

He punched out for his break. As he turned around, Stiles almost barreled into him. He had the goofiest grin on his face. Scott stood back and eyed him suspiciously. “Why are you so happy?”

Stiles shrugged and leaned back against the wall. “No reason.”

Scott turned around and leaned next to him. “Don’t give me that. I haven’t seen you this happy since you met Steven Tyler at that Foot Locker.”

Stiles leaned close to his ear. “This is way better than that.”

Scott stood up straight. “Wow, this is serious.”

Stiles nodded and his grin broadened. “Do you know my hopeless, never-ending crush on Derek?”

“Of course.”

“It might not be so hopeless after all.”

Scott’s eyes bulged. “What?”

“I know. It’s crazy. I was up on the roof and we started talking about music and our mothers and he said he couldn’t see me as a sexy rock star. He said he could only see me as a kid. So I decided to act more mature and I spoke in this really deep voice and I touched him and he watched me walk away,” Stiles rambled.

Scott looked confused.

“Okay, that wasn’t a great explanation. You had to be there. But I saw the look on his face when he walked away. He was interested.”

Scott nodded slowly. If Stiles said he seemed interested, than he believed him. He clapped Stiles on the shoulder. “I’m so happy for you, dude.” He shoved Stiles a little. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

“I’m sorry. Unfortunately, I had to lead Jackson to the trough.”

Scott laughed.

“Allison was not happy with my performance there.” Stiles looked at his watch. “Speaking of, you’re getting a lot closer to your deadline.”

“I know.” Scott could feel his hands start to shake.

Stiles took him by the shoulders. “Are you okay, dude?”

“Y-yeah,” Scott stuttered. “I’m just starting to get a little nervous.”

“Okay. While Allison’s still with Jackson, why don’t you go up to the roof and just take a deep breath and get prepared,” Stiles suggested.

Scott nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.” He walked away and turned around quickly. “Just think, maybe by the end of the day we’ll both be with the people we want.”

Stiles grinned and gave him a thumbs up.

Scott got up to the roof and was startled when he spotted Allison up there.

Allison’s head shot up and she shook her head. “What are you doing here?”

Scott walked up to her without answering. It was a little early and he hadn’t really fully prepared, but maybe it was for the best. He could just speak from the heart. “Allison, I need to say something to you.”

Allison pressed her hands to her eyes. “Scott, maybe, you could just wait.”

“That’s the problem. I’ve put this off for too long,” Scott declared.

Allison pursed her lips. “What do you mean?”

Even though he hadn’t practiced it much, he went on with his speech. “Do you remember that horrible day that Lydia got bit by her dog and Stiles was convinced he saw a wolf in the parking lot and you wore that skirt that I hate?”

Allison did a small double take. “A skirt? What skirt?”

“That short, brown one with the blue polka dots,” Scott explained.

“That skirt? You hate it?”

“Yeah.” Scott tried to get back on topic, before he lost his nerve. “But it’s good that I hated it because I realized if I could love you in that skirt, that this really must be it. I love you, Allison.”

Allison just gaped at him.

“I’m sorry that sounded better in my head.” Scott took a deep, calming breath. “Allison, I think we should get back together.”

“You want to get back together because of a skirt?” Allison said slowly.

“No,” Scott insisted. “That’s not-”

Allison turned around. “I’m sorry, Scott, but I can’t do this right now.”

Scott walked in front of her. “Allison, wait.”

“Scott, I just threw myself at Jackson Whittemore,” Allison blurted out.

Scott backed away in shock. “Jackson?”

“Yes.” Allison sat down. “I just want to be alone right now.”

Scott felt like an idiot. Of course Allison wanted Jackson. How could he think Allison would want him back? She had dumped him to broaden her horizons and Jackson would certainly be a step up from him, even if he was a prick.

Scott edged toward the door. “Yeah. Okay. Just forget I said anything. It was nothing.” Before he could fall through the ground in embarrassment, he ran off.

~*~

Derek watched as Jackson finished up with the last fan of the afternoon. He turned around and noticed Derek. He smirked at him. He got up and sauntered over to him. “I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that you set all of this up.”

Derek narrowed his eyes. Jackson actually sounded sincere, which was very odd.

Jackson chuckled. “It’s not because I couldn’t have done this at someplace more respectable than your little hole in the wall store.”

Derek grimaced. What a fucking scumbag. Derek wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of responding.

“I just wanted to rub your face in what I’ve become,” Jackson admitted. His bravado crumbled a little. “You always thought you were so much better than me in high school. You looked down your nose at me.”

Derek had to respond to that. “I only looked down on you because you were a little punk who treated everyone around you like crap. And, honestly, I didn’t give much thought to you at all while I was there.”

“I bet you’re thinking about me now though. How I made it out of this shit heap, while you’re still here working at a record store, and not even a successful one.” Jackson got in Derek’s face.

Derek’s fists balled at his sides. Suddenly, he felt someone’s hand on top of his. He looked down and saw Stiles looking up at him with an uncharacteristically serious look on his face.

“He’s not worth it, Derek,” Stiles whispered.

Derek looked back at Jackson and then at Stiles. He drew his hand back from Stiles’ grasp and stalked away back to his office.

Stiles joined him there soon after. “You know there are certain benefits to being more mature, but I really wished I had let you just deck that guy.”

Derek paced. “Let me?”

“Well, I mean-”

Derek cut him off. “The only reason I stopped is I didn’t want to give that asshole a reason to sue me, as if I need that on top of everything else going wrong in my life.”

Stiles pinched the bridge of his nose. “The only thing I’m trying to say is that I think you made the right decision.”

Derek stopped pacing. “Oh, thanks. Your validation means the world to me.”

Derek noticed Stiles’ hands balling up. “Why are you tearing my head off? I mean I know you like to act gruff and like you can’t be bothered with us, especially me, but you’re not usually this much of an asshole.”

Derek knew Stiles had a point. He didn’t know why he let Jackson get to him. Maybe it was because he felt he had a point. Jackson had become a success and he hadn’t. If karma existed, Derek had to wonder how that could have possibly been right.

It wasn’t fair, but he couldn’t help it that it felt slightly better finally just unloading on someone after everything that had happened that day, even if he knew that someone didn’t deserve it. “If you didn’t want me tearing your head off, maybe you shouldn’t have come into my office. You know, I think you forget that I’m your boss. All of you forget that. I’m. Your. Boss,” Derek stressed. “I’m not your friend. I’m not your anything else and I never will be!”

Immediately after he said it, Derek felt bad. He hung his head and closed his eyes. “I’m sorry, Stiles. I just…” Derek looked back up.

Stiles was biting down hard on his bottom lip. He looked toward the ceiling and then turned to walk away. He turned back to glare at Derek. “Fuck off, boss.”

Derek opened his mouth to try and apologize again, but Stiles was already out the door.

Derek growled and pounded his fist on his desk. Screw meditation. He finally got out the boxing gloves.

~*~

Lydia was looking at Allison with such sympathy in her eyes, it should have made her feel better, but it just made her angrier.

Allison had just finished telling her about what had happened with Jackson. Lydia hadn’t said much, but made a lot of sympathetic noises and held Allison’s hand.

Quickly, Lydia looked like she was formulating some sort of plan. Allison really wasn’t interested.

She set to work taking off Lydia’s red bra. She set it on the table.

“Forget him,” Lydia said. “We’ll just find you a new guy.”

“That’s not what I want.” Allison groaned. “Don’t you think if I wanted another guy, I’d just be with Scott?”

“You have feelings for Scott again?” Lydia sounded surprised.

“No, but he has feelings for me. After what happened with Jackson, Scott came to me and confessed he wanted to get back together.” Allison felt so bad when she thought back to the crushed look on Scott’s face. She had been so wrapped up in her own pain that she hadn’t really processed it at the time, but now it was running in a constant loop in her head along with the look on Jackson’s face when he unzipped his pants.

Lydia ran a hand through her hair. “Wow. Talk about bad timing.”

“You think?” Allison rolled her eyes.

“That sucks, but he’ll probably get over it.” Lydia touched Allison’s knee. “You can’t worry about Scott right now. You have to take care of yourself.”

“What? By having sex with some random guy? I’m not you, Lydia.” The words were out of her mouth before she could even think to stop it.

The way Lydia’s face fell made her feel like complete crap. In a way, this wasn’t Lydia’s fault. She hadn’t forced her into the Jackson plan. She hadn’t made Allison have a crush on Jackson. But, Lydia had convinced her that Jackson would be a great guy for her first time. She was the one who made Allison feel like something was wrong with her for not having sex yet.

Lydia chewed her bottom lip and averted her eyes. “Are you calling me a slut? Do you think I need to go and do every guy I see?”

This would have been a perfect time for Allison to backtrack, but she was just too angry and not thinking clearly. It was like she was looking for a fight. She leaned against the table. “You certainly seem to enjoy it.”

For a second, Lydia’s lip trembled, but then she took a deep breath and turned her steely gaze on Allison. “Miss Self-Righteous.” She put her arms on the table. “What did you do with Jackson, huh? Did you act all perfect and better than everyone?”

“Better to be perfect than the town joke.” Internally, Allison screamed. What was she doing?

“You…” Lydia huffed. She looked like she was close to breaking down. Instead, she jumped up and took off.

Allison groaned and put her head in her hands. She knew it wasn’t wise, but she took out the gold vial and was prepared to take a pill, when Danny plopped down opposite her. Danny worked at the pizza place across the street from Hale’s.

“Is Jackson still there? Maybe you could get his autograph for me? Don’t tell, Stiles though. I know his music sucks, but he’s just so hot,” Danny prattled on.

“Not now, Danny.” Allison snatched up the bra and left.

~*~

When Lydia got back to the record store, she didn’t know what to do. A part of her wanted to cry, another wanted to scream, and another wanted to just tear someone’s head off. She stepped inside, spotted Jackson, and seethed - looked like it would be option C.

She cornered Jackson. “You son of a bitch!”

Jackson didn’t look upset, just mildly amused, which pissed Lydia off more. “Are you finally yelling at me for not cuddling?”

“I don’t give a shit about that,” Lydia scoffed. “I’m glad we didn’t cuddle. I should have never let a loser like you touch me in the first place.”

Jackson crossed his arms in front of his chest. “And what brought this on?”

“Even though I hate her right now, Allison is my best friend, and you treated her like some slut.”

Jackson didn’t look apologetic at all. “She was the one who took her top off and threw herself at me. The only thing I did was agree to have sex with her. What’s so wrong about that?”

Listening to Jackson explain it, Lydia had to admit he had a point. Anyway, why was she defending Allison? It’s not that she blamed Allison for being embarrassed about what happened and being upset about the Scott situation. That was understandable. What wasn’t understandable, and maybe even unforgivable, was Allison going off on her unprovoked and using Lydia’s insecurities against her. Lydia knew what other people in town thought about her and while it always hurt, it didn’t cut her to the core. But knowing that her best friend actually thought the same things was soul-crushing.

Jackson leaned in and whispered in her ear. “You know Allison was too sweet for me. Now you on the other hand, you can take everything I’d have to give you.”

Lydia leaned back and looked Jackson up and down. “I don’t know, Jackson. I’ve slept with guys since you and I would say you don’t even crack the top five anymore.”

Jackson just chuckled. “How about you give me a chance to redeem myself, then?”

This was definitely not a good idea. Jackson was a horrible, disgusting jerk, but Lydia had to admit that was somewhat part of his appeal and Jackson really wasn’t much worse than some of the other guys she’d slept with. Plus, she loved the idea of succeeding where Allison had not.

“Wait a minute and meet me in the count out room in the back. Hopefully, you last a little longer than in the past.” Lydia grinned and walked away with a lot more confidence than she felt.

When she got to the back, Isaac looked at her. He couldn’t have known what she was about to do, but still something about the look on his face, made her look down, overwhelmed with guilt for the moment.

But she didn’t let that stop her. She moved over to the count out room and shut the door. Being alone gave her a moment to consider her choice. Was getting a revenge fuck with Jackson really worth it?

Soon, she whirled around when the door opened. Jackson quickly backed her up against the wall. With the look on his face all thoughts of Allison flew out the window. Jackson looked at her as if he truly wanted her and nothing else. No one had ever looked at her like that before. Lydia grabbed his face and kissed him.

~*~

Allison found Scott in the front of the store painting. She knew he must really be depressed. He usually preferred to draw and, mostly, painted when he was down.

Scott spotted her as she leaned against the table next to him. He gave her a weak smile that definitely didn’t reach his eyes.

She smiled back. “That looks really nice. Maybe when you’re done, you could sell it. I would definitely buy it.”

Scott sighed. “Allison, please don’t act like everything is just fine.”

“That’s not what I’m trying to do.” Allison knew that was a lie.

“I just…” Scott gripped the paintbrush. “Why Jackson? Of all guys? You know he’s a jerk.”

Allison shrugged. “I didn’t know it then. It was just a stupid crush, which is definitely over now.”

“At least one good thing came out of this,” Scott reasoned.

Allison chewed on her bottom lip before continuing. “Scott, I’m really sorry about how I handled your confession. I didn’t really think about it and that’s not fair.”

Scott looked at her with some hope in his eyes.

“But, now that I’ve really thought about it, I still don’t think it’s a good idea.” The crestfallen look on his face was just as bad as before.

“Why not?”

“I just think we’re better as friends,” Allison explained. “And, I think if you really think about it, you’ll realize you’re not in love with me.”

Scott threw his paintbrush down. “Don’t tell me what I feel.” He stormed off.

Allison closed her eyes and blew out a long breath. This was the day from hell.

~*~

Isaac tried to keep his mind off what he was sure was going on in the count out room behind him. It wasn’t really his place to question Lydia’s choices, but he wished she had chosen anyone other than Jackson, and chosen any place other than the room right behind him, in the room he wasn’t allowed to leave. He couldn’t really hear what was happening, but the way his imagination was filling in the gaps was probably worse.

He didn’t have to wait long for a good distraction when Scott stormed into the back room. He was red-faced and seething. Isaac couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Scott like that. He got off the couch. “What happened?”

“I’m a total loser. That’s what happened.” Scott punched the arm of the couch.

“What are you talking about?”

“I told Allison how I felt and she rejected me. She even told me that she doesn’t think I really love her.”

Isaac just looked down and rubbed the back of his neck. He really couldn’t argue Allison’s point, even if part of his reasoning was selfish. He looked up and patted Scott on the arm. “I’m really sorry.” He looked behind him. “Do you want me to help you glue some quarters down?”

That earned a slight grin from Scott. “No.” He plopped down on the couch. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Isaac sat down next to him. Maybe Scott’s feelings for Allison were deeper than he thought/feared. “Does being with Allison mean that much to you?"

"I..." Scott took a deep breath. "It was something I was looking forward to. I wanted everything to go back to the way it used to be. And now I don't have her, Hale's is going away... I don't know what to do."

Isaac was about to open his mouth when Scott interrupted.

"If you say art school, I'm going to..." Scott didn't finish the sentence.

"Okay, that's it,” Isaac growled. “What is your problem? Why are you putting this off so much?"

"Why are you pushing me so hard?" Scott countered.

"I asked you first."

Scott shook his head.

Isaac sighed. "I believe that you have a real gift, Scott. I don't want you to waste it. 'It's like God gave you something, man.'"

Scott snorted. "Now you're just quoting Stand By Me."

"It is your favorite." Isaac smiled.

Scott twisted around and their knees were almost touching. "You really think I'm that good?"

Isaac nodded without hesitation. "Absolutely."

Scott looked up at Isaac and quickly looked down. "Is that why you carry that picture I drew of you?"

Isaac blew out a breath. "I carry that drawing because no matter how many pictures I take in my life, no one could ever capture the real me the way you did."

Scott just stared at him with his big brown eyes and Isaac felt compelled to keep spilling his guts.

"When you showed me that picture, it was the first time I didn't hate who I saw because I saw myself the way you did. I wasn't that frightened kid who thought he was nothing. I was-"

"Beautiful," Scott finished in a gentle voice.

Isaac nodded slowly. Scott was gazing into his eyes with such warmth and love, Isaac was overwhelmed. Before he knew what he was doing, he leaned over and kissed him.

Isaac sighed against his mouth. He'd had these feelings for so long, but a part of him wondered if he ever got a chance to kiss Scott, to be with him, if it would be a giant letdown. Though maybe that would be a relief and he could put his crush aside.

But there was no chance of that now. Isaac felt electrified all over. Scott had the softest lips he'd ever felt. Isaac couldn't imagine ever getting tired of kissing him. It didn't even matter that Scott wasn't kissing him back.

Soon, it did register that Scott wasn't kissing him back. The kiss was almost over as soon as it began. He pulled back and covered his mouth.

Scott was sitting stiffly and blinked at him.

"Oh, my...Scott, I..." Isaac couldn't face this. He had just blown everything. He took off before Scott could regain the ability to speak.

~*~

Scott walked around the store in a daze. He couldn't believe Isaac had kissed him. He'd been going over and over it in his mind for the last ten minutes. It still seemed so surreal. It made it hard to wrap his mind around what it meant and what he felt about it.

It wasn't the worst kiss he'd ever had. Isaac wasn't even the first guy he'd ever kissed. He and Stiles had kissed right before Stiles' thirteenth birthday because being kissed was something Stiles wanted to do before he turned thirteen. Scott needed the practice as well, so he had agreed to it. Neither Scott nor Stiles had any complaints, but it wasn't something either of them wanted to do again.

But that was Stiles. Scott saw Stiles like a brother. As close as he had become with Isaac, and even though he now lived with them, Scott hadn't ever really seen Isaac in the same way. It wasn't that he wanted to kiss Isaac; he'd never really seriously thought about it. But now that it had happened, he was just so confused.

Scott finally managed to spot Isaac by one of the listening booths in the back. He started to walk toward him. Isaac actually dived into the bathroom to avoid him.

When Scott got to the bathroom door, he tried to open it, but something - or rather someone - was blocking it.

Scott closed his eyes and leaned his head against the door. "Isaac, come on, talk to me."

Isaac didn't respond. Scott pressed against the door again, but Isaac wasn't going to let him in.

"Isaac, please?"

"I don't want to talk, Scott. Go away."

Scott banged against the door with his fist. He soon gave up and his hand slowly slid down the door.

He trudged back toward the front of the store. He spotted Erica sitting down behind the counter. She was drinking something. He pointed to the bottle. "What's that?"

Erica narrowed her eyes at him and then snickered. "Scott, that's something we call beer. Now, I know you rarely drink the stuff, but-"

Scott grabbed the bottle from her hand and chugged it. He was done with it in a few seconds.

"Impressive." Erica whistled.

"You got any more?" Scott thought he was depressed after Allison rejected him, but it was nothing compared to the pain he felt at the thought he might lose Isaac after the kiss.

Erica reached behind her and opened another beer and gave it to Scott. She also reached behind her and picked up a box and stood up.

Scott recognized her buttons. "You made more buttons today?"

"Got to do something to make this miserable day go by faster."

Scott frowned. He really wished he could make things better for both of them. While he chugged more beer, he walked over to the CD player, and put in the first CD he found.

He almost choked when Jackson's "Say No More (Mon Amour)" started playing. Was it ironic, fitting, or both? Scott wasn't sure, but at least it was a peppy song. He desperately needed some peppiness right now.

When he went back to Erica, she tried to hand him a button that read "stupid." Scott didn't care about the intended insult. He put out his hand. "Dance with me?"

Erica shook her head vigorously. "No way! Veto! Veto!"

Scott tugged her closer. "Please?"

"If you think I'm dancing to a Jackson Whittemore song, you're crazy," Erica protested.

"I'm not the one who shaved her head," Scott teased.

"Ooh, that was kind of mean. You're impressing me, Scott. For that, you get a dance." She took his hand.

Scott was starting to feel really buzzed and realized how much of a lightweight he was when it came to alcohol, but he was glad to feel so light and to be having some fun.

He looked around and noticed that almost everyone in the store had now joined in and were dancing. Scott laughed. He looked at Erica and was amazed to see she was smiling, too. Impulsively, he kissed her.

Erica was actually the person he had lost his virginity to. They had never had real romantic feelings for each other, but they surprisingly got along really well, despite being polar opposites. It had happened after Allison had dumped Scott and she was feeling depressed over Boyd.

When Scott pulled back, he could see that Erica didn't want him and he didn't want her.

He could feel someone staring at him and looked over and saw Isaac watching them intently.

~*~

It's not like Erica minded being kissed by Scott. He was a cute, sometimes gorgeous, guy with some surprisingly strong kissing skills. Erica enjoyed her friendship with Scott. She could never have imagined being friends with someone like him before, but she really loved how big-hearted he was and how much he cared about all of his friends, including her.

Despite not being bothered by the kiss, Erica really felt nothing when he kissed her. She could tell that Scott's heart wasn't really in it.

She looked to her right and saw Boyd at the register. Unlike almost everyone else on the store he wasn't dancing. He gripped the counter and looked like he was close to breaking it in half.

She'd never seen him look that jealous before. He really did care about her. She wanted to go to him, but he walked away before she could.

~*~

Isaac had watched Erica and Scott's kiss. It obviously hurt, but he knew he had no claim on Scott. This was his fault in the first place - first because of the kiss and then his refusing to face Scott afterwards.

He didn't understand how one person could continue to fuck up their lives so epically. After today, he may have lost the two most important people in his life. His knees almost buckled at the thought. He wanted to lie down and give up.

For some reason, some random woman started to dance really closely up against him. He was about to tell her to go away, but he decided to just go with it. Maybe he could have one moment of fun before everything came crashing down around him.

Suddenly, he heard Derek's booming voice. "I hope everyone's having a good time because I don't think they'll allow any dancing in Music Town. So enjoy yourself while you can because this store will be a Music Town very soon."

Scott rushed to turn off the music.

Isaac could see that Derek was at the end of his rope. He did that to him.

Isaac could see Scott watching Derek. He looked like he's in almost as much pain as Derek.

A switch flipped in Isaac and the only thing he wanted was to be punished. His dad used to tell him the only useful purpose he served was giving him something to take his stress out on. Maybe he could do that for Derek.

Isaac slowly made his way over to Derek, who was watching them all on the top of the steps. "What are we supposed to do, Derek?"

Derek glared at him. "This guy. What am I supposed to do with this guy?" He slowly walked down the stairs. "I can't turn him in, because who do you think he's going to come to for bail money? Or should I put my own money in and I'm screwed."

Isaac grinned. "You'll figure something out. You're a superb manager."

Derek got to the bottom of the stairs and stood right in front of Isaac. "Say that again."

Isaac didn't back down. He could tell Derek was right on the edge. "Superb."

Derek grabbed his shirt and pushed him roughly into the back room. Isaac landed on the ground. Scott, Boyd, Erica, and Stiles ran into the back.

Isaac braced himself for Derek's punch.

Scott tried to get in between them. "Derek, stop!"

Isaac got up. "Stay out of this, Scott! Derek needs to do what he needs to do."

Derek advanced on Isaac. "You really screwed me today, you know that? I am so pissed, and yeah, a part of me really wants to hit you." He grabbed Isaac.

Isaac wouldn't flinch. He stood straight and waited on Derek.

"I know you think you deserve it." Derek let Isaac go. "But that's not true and I'm not going to do it. No matter what you've done, you don't deserve to be someone's punching bag...ever!" Derek put his hand on Isaac's shoulder and squeezed.

Isaac looked down and let out a tremulous sigh.

Derek grabbed him by the neck and hugged him. He patted Isaac's back.

Isaac could see Scott over Derek's shoulder and he just nodded as if to echo what Derek had said.

Isaac still felt like he didn't deserve either of them, but was so grateful to have them.

The quiet moment was disrupted when they all suddenly heard quiet laughter and the sound of the copy machine going off.

Derek looked around. "Where's Jackson?"

"I think the better question is - where's Lydia?" Erica pointed out.

They all shared knowing looks and stared at the door to the count out room.

"I'll check my office," Derek said.

"I'll check the bathroom," Scott offered.

"I'll check the sofa," Isaac said. He just sat down.

Allison suddenly joined all of them. She was holding onto her till. "Derek, is it okay if I count out early?" She reached for the door knob to the count out room and found it locked. She turned to all of them. "What's going on?"

Another giggle could be heard.

A look of realization came upon Allison's face.

Isaac winced.

"Where's Lydia?" Her voice shook. "Where's Jackson?"

Everyone looked down.

Allison threw down her till.

~*~

Lydia and Jackson finished their second go round. Lydia had to give Jackson credit. He had truly learned some new moves since high school and had impressed her.

"That was nice," Jackson said as he tucked his shirt into his pants.

Lydia just laughed nervously. This was always the worst part - some guys were gone in a flash, but a lot lingered around, and tried to come up with something to say just so they didn't look insensitive. Sometimes Lydia let them off the hook, sometimes she didn't. She was still debating what to do with Jackson.

"Uh, I can't promise anything, but maybe the next time I'm in town-"

Lydia cut him off. "I'm going to stop you right there. The time for any romantic sentiment was before we had sex on a copy machine. You don't have to say anything. I know I'm not the type of girl you date - especially not someone like you."

"You're probably right." Jackson sighed. "I still want to see you again." Jackson smiled. "Maybe next time you can wear that red bra?"

Lydia's brow furrowed. "Red bra?"

"Yeah. The one your friend had earlier? That was yours wasn't it?"

Lydia blinked. "You remembered that?"

"You said it was your lucky bra." Jackson invaded Lydia's space and made it hard for her to think. "I told you that you're a memorable girl."

Lydia opened her mouth, but couldn't speak. This was supposed to be just sex. She was not prepared for real feelings.

She inched away from him and walked out. Instantly, she noticed that everyone seemed to be back there and they were all looking at her. Allison especially was staring daggers at her.

Clearly everyone knew what they had been doing, but Lydia refused to feel ashamed.

Jackson came out and also noticed all eyes on them. He mock bowed. "No applause?"

Surprisingly, of all people, it's Scott who ran forward and tackled Jackson. Lydia was too shocked to say or do anything.

Allison and Derek pulled Scott and Jackson apart. As Scott was getting himself together, Jackson hauled off and punched him. Scott landed in Derek's arms.

"I never liked you," Jackson spit out.

Isaac lunged for Jackson and got in a punch that landed Jackson on his ass.

Derek made sure Allison tended to Scott. He picked up Jackson's bag and threw it at him. "Get the hell out of my store. Oh, and by the way, Braeden didn't have a family emergency. She hated you so much that she quit."

"Also, your hair looks stupid," Isaac chimed in.

"We all hated your new album," Erica added.

Boyd continued the pile on. "And all the ones before that."

"You were a crappy lacrosse player." Everyone stared at Stiles. "What? It needed to be said."

Lydia and Jackson shared a look. He would never show any weakness in front of any of them, but she knew some of their remarks hit their mark.

She knew Jackson brought this on himself and he more than deserved the vitriol for punching Scott, but she still felt bad for him.

"You don't belong in Beacon Hills anymore," Derek declared.

"You think that hurts me?" Jackson scoffed. "I'm glad to be rid of this town. Every single one of you is jealous and you will never have what I have. Why don't you all just fade away?"

He looked over at Lydia somewhat apologetically. She looked away. She heard as he stormed out.

Lydia could feel Allison's glare. The heat from it would have melted her face off, if that were possible. She chanced a glance up at her.

"I hate you!" Allison yelled and ran back to the front of the store.

Lydia tried to put on a stoic face and pretend it didn't faze her, but it did, even though she knew she had nothing to be sorry for. Allison meant a lot to her and she feared they wouldn't be able to get past it.

"Lydia, you should go home," Derek said as he placed an ice pack over Scott's eye.

"Am I fired?" Lydia's eyes bulged as she turned to him. It wasn't like Derek to take sides. She must have truly fucked up to get him to turn against her.

Derek shook his head. "I haven't fired anyone today. Why would I start with you?"

Lydia sighed in relief. At least she hadn't turned everyone against her.

~*~

Allison rubbed at her temples. She had a blinding headache. It was doing nothing to improve her foul mood. Allison seethed as she watched Jackson’s fans continue to line up. She could see some at the front of the line start to whisper amongst each other. It was clear that they were wondering where the conquering hero had gone. There was a part of her that wanted to march over there and tell all of them what a sleaze he really was, but she thought she didn’t really need to wreck anyone else’s illusions about him.

Her thoughts went back to Lydia. She was still so angry that Lydia had never warned her about Jackson. She knew him better than Allison did. Then again, Jackson being a jerk didn’t stop Lydia from sleeping with him. Obviously, sleeping with losers didn’t bother Lydia. Obviously, hurting her friend didn’t bother Lydia.

Allison gazed over at the back room. She decided that she let Lydia off to easy. She marched back over there and almost ran smack into Lydia. As Lydia tried to move around her, Allison blocked her path. “How could you do it? How could you sleep with Jackson just to get back at me?”

Lydia had the nerve to laugh. “Of course you think it’s about you.”

“Isn’t it?” Allison insisted. “Or did you just get bored of going through every guy in town and need a new challenge?”

Lydia threw down her purse. “You think I’m a slut? Maybe I am, but at least I don’t hide who I am.” She poked Allison in the chest. “You think I don’t know what you’ve been doing?”

Allison drew back and shook her head slightly. Lydia couldn’t be indicating what she thought she was. She panicked when Lydia strode over to the cubby hole with Allison’s purse and dumped it out. Allison ran over there, but Lydia already had the vial in her hand.

Lydia takes out a pill. “Oh, what are these aspirin, vitamins, breath mints?”

“Stop it,” Allison pleaded.

Lydia poured some pills into her hand. “I don’t think so.”

“Shut up!” Allison was near tears as she looked around and saw everyone was watching them. The sad look on Scott’s face especially hurt.

“My life may be shitty, but at least I don’t need to chow down ten pills to get through the day. But, you know what, maybe I should. Maybe then I’d get into Stanford and I’d get a chance to be out of here.”

“Shut up!” Allison lamely repeated. She knelt down to the floor to pick up some pills Lydia had carelessly dropped.

“God, you don’t even understand how perfect your life is, do you?” Lydia screeched. She took one pill and threw it at Allison. “Here’s one for your perfect face!”

“Stop it!”

Lydia threw another one at her. “And your perfect body.” Lydia relentlessly threw pills at Allison. “And your perfect school…”

“Lydia, stop it!” Derek ran to her.

“And your perfect, perfect future!” Lydia was choking back tears.

“Stop it.” Derek grabbed her arms.

Lydia struggled a little. “I’m stopping.”

Derek held her a little closer. “It’s okay. Just go home.”

“It’s always about her!” Lydia rushed out of the room.

Allison almost crushed the pills in her hand. She had never felt so humiliated and ashamed and pissed off. She knew she should have never taken the pills, but she had to find a way to keep it together. She didn’t want to let anyone down or burden anyone with her problems, but she was tired of holding it all in and pretending everything was fine.

Derek crouched down next to her and touched her back. “It’s okay. Everything’s fine.”

In a rage, Allison jumped up. “It’s not fine! Nothing’s ever fine.” She wildly looked around the room. “I’ll show you fine! I’ll show you perfect!” She blindly charged out of the room.

She screamed and started destroying the table and display that had been set up for Jackson. When she saw the cardboard cutout of Jackson, her rage increased tenfold. She swiped a pen from the counter and started stabbing at the cutout’s face. “I hate you!” It fell to the ground and she followed it. “I hate everything!”

Before she knew it, several different arms wrapped around her and tried to settle her down. She felt someone stroking her hair and looked up and saw Scott behind her. He didn’t say anything, but held her and rocked her back and forth. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath and felt her anger cooling down.

“Is that better?” Scott asked with a crooked smile.

Allison nodded slightly as she panted.

“Maybe you should go to the bathroom to cool down?” Scott suggested.

“Can I do it?” Erica gently asked.

Allison didn’t know why Erica was offering, but at this point she didn’t really care. Derek looked to her and she nodded.

~*~

Erica held Allison’s hair back as she helped her dunk her face in the sink full of water. “Up, up, up,” she said after a second. “Better?” Allison nodded. Erica got Allison a paper towel and started to dry her face.

Erica had to admit she was a bit impressed by Allison’s freak out. Allison had always seemed too perfect and it was kind of nice to know she held as much anger inside as everyone else.

She guessed that was why it was so important for her to take care of Allison in this moment. Lord, knew she had sometimes wished someone was there for her when she got to the place Allison was.

Allison took the towel and started to dry her own face.

Erica leaned back against the wall. “I guess no one has it all together, do they?”

Allison didn’t reply, but grinned slightly.

“I guess, welcome to my neighborhood.” They both chuckled quietly. Erica sighed. “It’s nice to not feel so alone.”

“Yeah.” Allison averted her eyes.

Erica started to feel a little uncomfortable and sat on the toilet. She’d never spent much one on one time with Allison, or really any other girl. “Did you really want your first time to be with a douche like Jackson? In the count out room?”

Allison turned around and shrugged.

“Did you really want your memory of that to be him doing you up against the count out totals with your feet pounding against the safe?

Allison started to laugh.

“‘Oh, Jackson, you’re so sexy,’” Erica imitated Allison. “‘Sing another one of your ultra-hot songs about making out in the cafeteria.’”

Allison was clutching her stomach as her laughter increased. As her laughter died down, she looked at Erica. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

Erica couldn’t help putting up her usual walls. It was always better to be the dumper than the dumpee. She was sure Allison and Lydia would patch things up and she didn’t want to be a third wheel. Erica got up. “Let’s save our Hallmark moment.”

~*~

Stiles couldn’t believe what had just gone down. He honestly thought if anyone of them trashed the store it would be Erica or Isaac. He never imagined Allison having that kind of meltdown. He felt bad for her. If he was feeling bad, he couldn’t imagine how Scott was feeling or what he was thinking.

“I feel like such a bad friend for not seeing how much pain she’s been in and not knowing she was taking those pills.”

Scott let out a long breath. “I was her boyfriend and I didn’t know she was taking them.”

“But you’ve been broken up for a long time. You can’t blame yourself, Scott.” Stiles gently patted his shoulder.

Scott just hung his head.

“Do you think she’ll have to go to rehab?”

Scott looked up. “I don’t think so...I hope not.”

Stiles shook his head. “Her parents would probably kill her.”

“Fuck them!” Scott blurted out.

Stiles was taken aback. Scott rarely cursed. He sounded majorly pissed.

“They’re the reason this happened. They’ve always put too much pressure on her.” He sighed. “I wish I hadn’t been so hard on her earlier. I don’t care if she’s not my girlfriend. I just want her to be my friend and to be okay.”

Stiles squeezed his shoulder. “You can tell her that. I think it might make her feel better.”

Scott nodded slowly.

“I have to tell you. Days like today really make me appreciative of my dad.”

Scott grinned.

What he said was true, but there really wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t stop and think once and while about how great his dad was. It hadn’t been easy after Stiles’ mom died. Stiles certainly didn’t always make it easy on him, but his dad seemed to have an unlimited amount of patience when it came to him. He might grumble and he would get frustrated, but he was always there for Stiles.

He also always made time for Stiles. As the sheriff he definitely had a demanding job, but he made sure that he could be there for Stiles when he needed him. He even let Stiles, and Scott, hang out at the sheriff’s office sometimes, which could be exciting. He really did feel like he had the greatest dad in the world.

Scott looked up at him. “I feel the same way about my mom.”

Stiles laughed. “Yeah, she’s great, except for that blind spot when it comes to Jackson Whittemore. I can’t believe she likes his music.”

“I think that’s over after today.” He gestured to his face where a bruise had started to form. “She might take a hit out on him after what he did.”

“Silver lining.” Stiles grinned broadly.

Scott laughed. “I’m so glad Derek threw him out.”

Stiles frowned. He was still pissed at Derek for what he said earlier, but Derek had shown once again that he would be there for them when it really counted. He sighed. “We have to do something to save the store.”

Boyd joined them. “We all want to help, but I don’t have nine thousand dollars just lying around. Do you?”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Yeah, if I had nine thousand dollars to spare, do you really think I’d be working here?”

They all shared a look and then simultaneously nodded.

Stiles smiled. “Yeah.”

~*~

Isaac kept trying to work up the nerve to talk to Scott about what happened, but every time he looked at him, he just got too nervous to even contemplate what he would possibly say.

Scott finally spotted him watching him and walked over.

Isaac decided to try and not make a run for it.

Scott opened his mouth to speak, but his voice cracked. He cleared his throat. “Do you think you might be up for talking about what happened?”

Isaac stuck his hands in his pockets. “Don’t you need to go check on Allison? That’s probably more important.”

“Erica’s with her. I’ll talk to her soon. I just...I want to make sure that we’re okay.”

Isaac rocked back on his heels. “Of course we are.”

Scott ran a hand through his hair a couple of times and looked like he didn’t know what to say. “That’s good, but…”

“I kissed you,” Isaac finished for him. “I know. Honestly, I don’t know what came over me. I just think I’ve always been curious, and today’s been so stressful, and I just did it. But you don’t have to feel weird about it because it really didn’t mean anything.” He thought that must have been the worst lie he ever told.

Scott looked a bit confused. He started to say something, but Isaac interrupted again.

“I should probably get back to my prison.” He pointed to the couch. “Yard time’s over.” He tried to joke. He nodded once and walked past Scott.

~*~

Stiles spotted the exchange between Scott and Isaac. Scott looked like such a kicked puppy. He looked more depressed than after Allison dumped him, and that was definitely Scott’s lowest point.

Stiles walked into the break room. While he would like to say that he didn’t meddle in his friend’s affaisr, that definitely wasn’t true - especially where Scott was concerned. “What are you doing?”

Isaac frowned. “Practicing for some deep sea fishing.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “With Scott. What are you doing with, Scott? I saw you two just now. I heard what you said and I know you’re lying.”

Isaac sat forward. “What are you talking about?”

“Come on, man, I know how nuts over Scott you are. I have my own desperate, pathetic unrequited crush and I know the signs,” Stiles explained.

Isaac closed his eyes for a moment and then glared at Stiles. “Why do you care? You hate me.”

Stiles put up his finger and pursed his lips. “I think hate is way too strong a word. You piss me off, Isaac, yeah, but it’s only because you’re such a wise-ass.”

Isaac let out a dry chuckle. “Pot meet kettle.”

Stiles crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Okay, you’re right. I’m a wise-ass, too. And I’m telling you I do care about Scott...and you. Scott really loves you.”

Isaac swallowed thickly. “Like a friend.”

“How do you know that? You haven’t given him all the facts. You’re just lying to him. You should take a shot.”

Isaac leaned back on the sofa. “Alright, you have a point. So, tell you what, I’ll tell Scott how I really feel about him, when you take your own advice.”

Stiles gulped. “Uh, I-I don’t have to. Derek already knows I have a crush on him. So, ha! Ball’s back in your court.”

Isaac grinned. “I don’t think so. Derek thinks you have some meaningless crush on him. He doesn’t know how deep it goes. So as I said before, put up or shut up.”

~*~

Scott didn’t know how to approach Allison now. He saw her outside in front of the record store and walked over slowly. She jumped a little when he opened the door. Scott backed up. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s okay.” Allison smiled.

Scott padded outside and stood next to her. “What are you doing out here?”

Allison sighed. “I called Lydia to apologize. I asked her to come back. She didn’t answer, but I left a message and I keep hoping that she’ll show.”

“Give it some time. Lydia loves you. She’ll come back.” Scott assured her.

Allison smiled, though it fell quickly from her face. “I hope so. I’m glad that you believe so much in us. I really screwed up though. The things I said to her were unforgivable.”

“I’m sorry, Allison,” Scott started.

Allison shook her head. ‘Why are you apologizing? Scott, you’re not to blame for what I did.”

“I know.” Scott shrugged. “I just wish that I knew how you were feeling. I would have never put so much pressure on you today.”

“Scott, it’s okay. You just told me how you feel. It’s something I should have done, instead of stupidly taking pills to cope.”

Scott was glad she brought it up. “When did you start taking them?”

“A few months ago,” Allison explained. “My mom gave me some valium to help with my anxiety and I just kept taking them, far longer than I should have.”

“Your mother gave them to you?” Scott knew her parents were too insistent on her succeeding, but he never thought they would give her drugs.

“It’s not like it sounds. She was trying to help and neither of them knows I’m still taking them.” Allison always defended them.

Scott touched her arm gently. “You have to stop taking them. If you need help, I’ll be there.”

Allison smiled genuinely. “Thank you. I know it’ll be hard, but when I tell my parents they’ll help. I know they’re not perfect, but they do love me.”

“I’m glad.”

Allison chuckled. “Now that you know that I’m a mess, I bet you’re glad you’re not still with me.”

He knew she was just trying to lighten the mood, but he knew a part of her probably did mean it. “I don’t care that you’re a mess. I still love you.”

Allison hugged her arms to her chest. “I’m sorry, Scott, for earlier. I shouldn’t have told you how you feel.”

Scott just nodded.

Allison turned to him. “But, can you be honest with me, Scott?”

“Okay.”

“It’s not the same as it was before, is it?”

Scott didn’t answer.

Allison took his hand. “Scott, it’s okay. Part of the reason I was so surprised when you confessed was that you don’t look at me the way you used to. Because of you I know what it feels like to be in love. Am I the first person that you think of in the morning? Does it feel like your day hasn’t started until you talk to me? Do you constantly find yourself thinking about me? Does your heart leap into your throat the first time you see me? When I’m sad, does it tear you up inside, and you know you’d do anything to make it better? Do I make you smile? Do I make your life better?” Allison sniffed. “I think that’s what real love is.”

Scott was blown away by her explanation and he knew that she was right.

She tugged on his hand. “So, are you in love with me?”

Scott took a moment, but he finally shook his head slowly.

Allison hugged him.

~*~

Stiles knocked on Derek’s office door. Derek was surprised. He didn’t think Stiles was talking to him after what happened the last time they were in his office. Derek just grunted. He knew Stiles knew what that meant.

Stiles started talking right away. “I’ve been thinking of some ways that you can keep the store.”

Derek sat back. “You think I haven’t thought of about a dozen ways to keep this place?”

“I hope so,” Stiles answered easily. “But your way of thinking is probably a little more linear than mine and I might have thought of some more creative ways to keep it.”

“What like catching Peter in some awkward situation and blackmailing him for his shares?” Derek suggested.

“Well...No, I hadn’t thought of that.” Stiles stroked his chin. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Derek rolled his eyes, but there was a bit of a smile on his face. “What are some of your creative ideas?”

“I was thinking maybe we could have some kind of sale here? Scott could sell his art, Erica could sell her buttons, and Danny could sell...some interesting baked goods.”

Derek narrowed his eyes. “You want to sell drugs here?”

“Not...during the day.” Stiles winced. “Okay, you’re not sold on that part of it. We can skip that. But we all have some kind of talent that could make some money.”

Derek nodded. “You’re right.”

“Really?”

Derek chuckled. “Yes, I’m shocked, too. You probably could make some money, but I don’t think it would be enough, and not in the amount of time we have left.”

Stiles sighed. “Okay, that was just the first idea. I have more.” He pulled a list from his pocket.

“You wrote it down?” Derek was definitely impressed.

“This is important,” Stiles answered.

Derek smiled. “I keep being surprised about how adult you can be sometimes.”

Stiles fidgeted with the paper in his hand. “Well, you know, I’m almost a legal adult. I’ll be twenty-one very soon. A real adult...with real feelings.”

Derek knew what he was getting at, but he really didn’t want to get into it. He’d hurt Stiles’ feelings enough that day. “What do you mean?”

Stiles threw up his hands. “Derek, you know what I mean.”

Derek shrugged and blew out a breath. He got up and walked around and stood in front of Stiles. “If you’re talking about your crush...yes.”

“You say crush like I’m some idiot in high school pining after the captain of the football team,” Stiles protested.

“Well, aren’t you?”

“No. Wait, were you captain of the football team?”

Derek shook his head. “No. I was in the band.”

“You were a band geek?” Stiles said incredulously.

“No!” Derek shouted.

Stiles waved his hands in front of Derek’s face. “This all very much beside the point.” He took a deep breath. “You need to know that this isn’t just some crush. I really care about you.”

Derek pinched the bridge of his nose. “Stiles, you’re just a kid.”

Both Stiles and Derek seemed startled when Stiles shoved him. “You know what Derek I’d love to be just a kid, but my mom dying before my tenth birthday kind of made that impossible. My dad is great, and you know that, but it’s been just the two of us. Sometimes, I have to take care of him, because the only people we can depend on is each other. I clean, I cook, and I make sure he’s taking care of himself. I’ve been an adult for a really long time. It’s not my fault if you can’t see what’s right in front of you.” Stiles left and slammed the door.

Derek sat down heavily onto his desk. Stiles leaving angrily was starting to become a bad habit.

~*~

Isaac watched Stiles storm away from Derek’s office. Stiles stopped by the couch. “Well, ball’s in your court now.” He walked off without another word.

The one time he had any follow through. Isaac thumped his head against the couch.

Soon after, Scott walked into the room. He walked in hurriedly. “I just have to get my notebook. I won’t be here long.”

“That’s okay. You don’t have to rush off. In fact…” Isaac rubbed his palms against his thighs. “Can you come over and sit down?”

Scott looked hesitant, but complied.

Isaac thought back briefly to the last time they had been sitting there. He put that out of his mind. “I’m sorry for blowing you off earlier. I was just feeling weird after what happened.”

“Okay,” Scott drawled.

“The truth is...the truth is I wasn’t exactly being honest before when I told you why I kissed you,” Isaac confessed. He couldn’t believe he was about to take Stiles’ advice.

“So, why did you kiss me?”

“Because I love you.”

Scott’s mouth slowly fell open.

“I’m in love with you.” Isaac smiled. He did feel relieved after he got the words out finally. “I've been in love with you for a long time, but didn't say anything because I didn't want to make things weird or ruin our friendship, but I’m so in love with you." He pressed his hand to his face and chuckled. "And now I can't stop saying it." He shook out his hands and sobered up. "Scott, you're just the best person I know. Other than my mother, you were the first person who ever cared about me. You gave me my family.” He let out a long breath. “You just make me happy and you make my life better."

Scott was still doing his impression of a fish.

"I don’t expect you to say anything. I know you’re in love with Allison and that’s okay. You deserve someone like her. I just wanted you to know because I don’t want any thing in between us any more.”

Scott just stared at him.

Isaac couldn’t take it anymore and just patted Scott’s knee and left. He climbed up to the roof. He was sitting there for a while, when Derek joined him. Isaac immediately stood up. “I guess you want me to go back to the couch.”

Derek shook his head and sat down. “I just came up here to think.”

“About the money situation?”

Derek pursed his lips. “Among other things.”

Isaac had a feeling he knew what those other things were, but wouldn’t push Derek on it.

Derek looked over at him. “I think you need to leave. It’s only a matter of time before Peter calls the cops. I’ll explain what happened, and I’ll stall them for as long as you need.”

Isaac only pondered this for a second before he shook his head. “No, I’m not running away.”

Derek turned to face him fully. “Isaac, this might be your only shot. Why wouldn’t you take it?”

“Because my family’s here and because I’m not a coward. At least, I don’t want to be.” Isaac looked towards the sky. “All of my life my dad said that I would never amount to anything. It only takes so many times for someone to scream something at you and you start to believe it. For the longest time I thought I was nothing and I would never have anything good in my life. But then I met Scott and you and it led me here to Hale’s where I became something. This place is my home. So if it comes to it, I’ll go down with the ship. I won’t leave you to face this alone.”

Derek let out a gust of breath. He looked truly speechless.

“But I’m hoping we can turn this around. I think it’s a possibility,” Isaac added.

Derek grinned. “You sound like Scott.”

“That’s not a bad thing.”

“No, it’s not,” Derek agreed.

Isaac leaned his head back against the damaged sign. “I told Scott I Iove him.”

Derek gasped. “You actually told him?”

Isaac cocked his head to the side. “You don’t seem surprised by my feelings.”

Derek grinned. “Isaac, you lived with me and I know you. Of course I knew. I’m glad you told him.”

“It didn’t change anything. He doesn’t love me.” Isaac sounded like a lovelorn loser, but that’s what he was.

Derek’s grin broadened. “The day’s not over yet.”

“You think he could possibly love me?” Isaac asked with a little bit of hope. If Derek believed, that was major.

Derek clapped Isaac on the shoulder. “In life there are nothing but possibilities. I read that somewhere.”

Isaac laughed. “Me, too.”

Derek got up and Isaac followed suit.

“So, you think it’s possible for someone to have feelings for someone else and not know it?”

Derek shrugged. “It could happen.”

Isaac looked him up and down. “Really.” He wasn’t being subtle and he didn’t care.

“Yeah,” Derek said slowly as he eyed Isaac suspiciously. “Are you trying to hint at something?”

Isaac touched his hand to his chest. “Me? Never.”

Derek was still glaring at him.

Isaac smirked and walked away. He hoped the seed had been planted and Derek would think about his own situation with Stiles.

~*~

Boyd and Erica were working at the register together. He seemed a little distant. She wondered if he was mad about her kiss with Scott.

Erica was just finishing up with a customer, a young girl, when Boyd turned to her. “That was a really nice thing you did for Allison.”

Erica shrugged. “I didn’t do much. I just helped her splash some water on her face.”

“You reached out to her. I’m sure she really appreciated it.”

Erica nodded slowly. She hoped things wouldn’t always be this awkward between them.

“Your shift is almost over, isn’t it?” Boyd jammed his hands into his back pocket.

“Yeah.”

Boyd sighed. “I know that you don’t want us to go out anymore, but I was wondering if you want to do anything later. Maybe commiserate over what’s happening to the store?”

Erica leaned against the counter. “You’re not mad about me kissing, Scott?”

“You didn’t kiss him. He kissed you.” Boyd smiled.

“Why are you trying so hard, Boyd?” Erica didn’t ask unkindly. She was sincerely curious. She’d never had a guy try so hard with her.

“Because you matter to me. So, I’m not giving up until you see that.”

“Excuse me?” A customer tried to get her attention.

Boyd smiled and backed away slowly.

Erica couldn’t help but to watch him. He was still so cute

A customer snapped his fingers at her. “Hey, Sinead O’Connor, a little service here?”

Erica finally turned to look at the small man. “Hey, Hobbit, bite me.”

~*~

Allison had finally gone inside. She held out little hope that Scott was right and Lydia would come back tonight. To get her mind off it, she tried to find something to do. She spotted Erica dealing with an apparent rude customer.

Allison really wanted to repay Erica for what she had done for her. She knew Erica would shrug it off as no big deal, but it meant a lot to her that she had reached out to her and helped her out. She wanted Erica to know people really did care. She sat down and tried to think like Erica.

Suddenly, a great - but morbid - idea hit her. Using some of Scott’s art supplies she started making up some invitations for a funeral.

Isaac wandered over to her as she worked on her third card. “Rest in peace, Erica. Is Erica not with us anymore?”

“I just thought if Erica thinks she wants to be dead, we can show her what she’d be leaving behind.” Allison paused. “Do you think it’s too much?”

“No. I think it’s a really cool idea.” Isaac stood over her shoulder and looked at what she’d done.

Allison eyed him curiously. She’d been dying to ask him something all day, but she and Isaac weren’t that close, and she’d been preoccupied. But keeping with her vow to not keep things bottled up, she glanced up at him. “Why’d you take the money, Isaac? Did you have a plan?”

Isaac sighed. “Not a comprehensive plan. I came up with a crazy idea and hoped for the best. Now, we’re all screwed.”

Allison gathered up her cards and stood up. “I don’t think so. I think you’re a lot more capable than you think you are, Isaac. If Scott believes in you, so do I.” She tapped him gently with the cards and walked off.

When she got to the front, she found everyone and individually offered them an invitation.

When Erica read her card she blew a raspberry. “I’ll pass.”

Allison shook her head. “You’re dead. You don’t have a choice.”

“RIP.” Erica read the card. “Really idiotic party.”

~*~

Danny was finally done with work and was sitting on the couch with Stiles working on fixing some CDs of Stiles.

“I don’t know why people don’t know how to handle these things. I mean, it’s not a mirror. There is no reason to be handling the back side of it at all. But no one listens and they’re left out all the time.”

“They’re fragile things. You have to take care of them,” Danny said.

“I do,” Stiles argued.

“You know if you burn CDs it can improve the sound,” Danny suggested. “But still it doesn’t compare to the sound of vinyl. It sounds so dirty and gritty and imperfect, but that’s what makes it better. It’s kind of like life.”

Somehow this made Stiles think of Derek, though that wasn’t really unusual lately. He could think about what’s for dinner and inevitably it would lead to him wondering what Derek might order on a first date. He wished he weren’t so hopeless.

“Excuse me?”

Stiles and Danny looked up. Stiles almost didn’t recognize Braeden. She looked a little different - less power suit, more leather jacket and jeans.

“Hi,” Danny said.

“Hi. I was wondering if you guys knew where Derek was?”

“Do you need something?” Stiles asked.

“Sort of.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I can’t stop thinking about him.”

“Join the club,” Stiles muttered.

“What?” Braeden quirked her eyebrow.

Stiles shook his head. “Nothing. Sorry. He’s in his office.”

Braeden still looked at him funny. “Okay, thanks.” She waved and left.

Danny patted Stiles’ back sympathetically.

Stiles wondered if he was always going to feel like such a loser.

~*~

There was a knock on Derek’s door. He looked up and smiled when he spotted Braeden. “You know, I should hate you for leaving me to deal with Jackson, but I have to say you look good. Unemployment must not be so bad.”

Braeden chuckled. “What are you doing later?”

“I may be having a nervous breakdown,” Derek joked.

“So, is a date out of the question?”

Derek opened his mouth, but didn’t know what to say. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Stiles in the break room. Stiles looked up and they shared eye contact for a few moments. Stiles looked away first.

Derek sighed. “I would love to, but apparently I’m attracted to a child.”

Braeden did a double take. “What?”

Derek ran what he said threw his head and realized how weird that sounded. “I’m sorry, that came out wrong. I’m not attracted to children. I’m not a weirdo.” He covered his eyes and let out a small chuckle. “I was referring to that kid out there.” He pointed out the window.

Braeden went over to look. “The cute one with the big brown eyes?”

Derek shook his head.

“The curly-haired skinny one. He’s kind of hot.” Braeden eyed Isaac up.

“No.” Derek shook his head again. “He’s kind of like my son. So, again, no.”

“Oh,” Braeden said knowingly. “It’s the short, cute one with the motor mouth.”

“Yes. Apparently, that’s the man of my dreams.” Derek heard him saying it out loud and it still sounded weird, but also right.

Braeden looked back at him. “Well, that’s a little disappointing, but what’s the problem?”

“Did you hear me refer to him as a child? Part of me is attracted to him, but the other part can’t stop thinking of him as the gangly kid I first met. How could I have a relationship like that?”

“Maybe you should stop living in the past. You need to acknowledge the man that Stiles has clearly become and maybe you should take your own advice - figure out what you want and what's going to make you happy."

~*~

Everyone was gathered in the break room. Erica was laid out on a rickety table they had to prop up with a book. Her head was resting on a sparkly white pillow. She had her eyes closed.

There were candles lit around the room. Everyone, except Stiles, who was left as the lone person doing their job, was standing around Erica.

Scott had to admit that Allison had done a nice job with everything.

"We are gathered here today to pay our last respects to Erica," Allison announced. "She left us too soon and didn't say why."

"Dogshit," Erica suddenly spit out.

"Hey, the dead don't talk," Isaac pointed out.

"Who would like to start first?" Allison asked.

Boyd leaned slightly against the table and looked down at Erica. "I just want you to stay, Erica. Give it another shot. There are some good things here if you just take a chance."

Erica stared into his eyes, before closing her eyes again.

"Erica, I really care about you and not just because I lost my virginity to you," Scott said with a crooked grin. "I...we all want to help you. I know that you're scared. We're all scared about something."

He looked directly at Isaac. They made eye contact. Scott still didn't know how to respond to Isaac's declaration.

Scott sighed. "I've been putting off applying to art school because I'm afraid of being rejected."

Isaac tilted his head to the side and gave him a sympathetic look. Scott was glad he finally let him know what was holding him back.

"I hate this funeral," Erica whined.

The loudspeaker crackled to life. "I am being mobbed out here!" Stiles cried. "Help me, help me, help me!"

Boyd chuckled. "I should probably go and help him." He left.

Scott barely heard what Stiles said; he was so focused on Isaac. When he looked at him now all he could hear was what Allison had said to him about love.

His heart already knew what he wanted; he just had to get his brain to stop being so scared and to get his mouth working properly.

~*~

Allison looked around the room. She knew this was supposed to be about Erica, but she couldn't help looking and knowing that someone was missing. "I miss Lydia."

"That's sweet, but aren't we supposed to be talking about me?" Erica whispered.

"I know, but I just wish I knew how bad Lydia was feeling. I wished I could take back the things I said because I don't think she's a bad person. She's fearless and brave and I wish I was like her."

"You are brave." Everyone watched as Lydia walked deeper into the room. She came to stand by Allison. "You're getting out of here."

Allison hugged her. It had only been a few hours, but she'd missed her so much.

Lydia returned the hug. She pulled back and drew Allison's hair out of her face. "It takes a brave person to apologize in front of everyone. I'm sorry for the things I said, too. And for not saying anything about the pills earlier. I shouldn’t have let you keep taking them."

“It’s not your fault,” Allison insisted.

Lydia sighed. "You're wrong. I'm not fearless because I don't have the guts to show anyone my demo or even audition.

Allison put her arm around her.

"I blame my mother a lot, but it's not her fault. And for someone so scared about ending up like her, I'm making her same mistakes. I'm afraid I'll never get out of this town." Lydia wiped her eyes.

"You're not going to end up like your mother. You're going to get out of here," Allison said with absolute confidence.

"How do you know?"

"Because I know how talented you are and you have something your mother didn't." Allison assured her.

Lydia's brow furrowed. "What's that?"

"You have us and we believe in you."

Erica suddenly got up to flee, but everyone pushed her down.

~*~

Isaac watched all the outpouring of emotion and was filled with such love for everyone...and such guilt.

"I used to wet my bed," he blurted out. "My father would hit me, not just because of the bed wetting, but because he said I was a bad seed. The state took me out of that place thanks to Derek and Scott. But things still didn't get better. Then Scott got Derek to take me into his home and he got me the job here and this place helped turn me into the well-adjusted person I am today." Isaac let out a sad laugh. He took a deep breath. "You guys are the first real family I've ever had and I'm so sorry for fucking everything up. I really was trying to help."

Suddenly, everyone's attention turned from Isaac when they heard a tearing sound.

Erica was tearing off her bandage. When it was off, she revealed the jagged cuts on her wrist. "Look. I tried to kill myself with a Lady Bic. A pink plastic razor with daisies on it and a moisturizing strip. It took me forever just to get through my skin." Erica sniffed. "I guess I was just tired of being sick and being alone and being invisible.

Allison kissed her forehead.

They all told her they loved her.

Isaac took her hand. "I promise you're not alone.”

~*~

Erica had tried to hold out for as long as she could, but after she heard everyone willing to pour their heart out, she felt she owed them the same.

When everyone told her they loved her, it really did take an immense amount of pain away.

After Isaac took her hand and told her she wasn't alone, she smiled up at him. She was about to say something when they heard gunshots.

Derek ran out of his office and looked out the window. "Oh, my God that kid is back!"

"What kid?" Erica asked.

"That shoplifter..."Liam." He's shooting up the place." He put his hand on the glass. "Stiles is out there." Derek whipped his head around and looked behind him. "Braeden, call 911."

Derek went out there.

The only thing Erica could think about was Boyd being out there. She's sick at the thought of him being hurt. She lined up with Allison and Lydia as they crouched by the window and watched Derek go up to Liam.

“Okay, kid, just calm down," Derek said as he approached with his hands up.

Liam pointed the gun at him. "You can't tell me what to do. I've got the gun. You have to do what I say."

"Fine, but just let the customers go." Boyd tried to reason with him.

Liam shot into the air. "What did I say?! I'm calling the shots now."

Erica couldn't take it anymore. This kid had to be stopped. She marched out there.

Derek stared at her. "Erica, what are you doing?"

Erica kept her eyes glued to Liam, though she did spare a glance towards Boyd to make sure he was okay. "I want to have a little chat with Liam."

"Oh, yeah?" Liam pointed the gun at her. "Have a little chat with my gun."

Erica shrugged. "What do you want, Liam?" She spoke directly into the barrel of the gun. She wouldn't let this kid intimidate her. She'd come too far today. "You can't kill me cause I'm already dead - had the funeral and everything. I talk to God, and she says, "Yo, wassup?" And she wants you to lose the gun.”

Even though he had the gun, Erica managed to practically back him into a corner.

"What? You are psycho. You're psycho!"

Boyd stepped out from behind the counter and stood between Erica and the gun.

Isaac had managed to make his way to the front of the store. He stood next to Boyd and Erica. "Liam, more than anyone I get what it's like to be an angry kid and to be considered a fuck up. But what you're doing right now is proving everybody right."

"Like you did today?" Liam was starting look less angry. "You stole that money and Derek didn't do anything. Do you think he would forgive me like that? Would he hire me?"

It dawned on Erica what he wanted. "Is that it? You want to work at a record store?"

Liam deflated. "No." He sighed. "Why should he...why should anyone give me a job?"

Isaac shrugged. "He gave me a job."

Derek took the gun from Liam.

Liam turned to him slowly. "So, do I get the job?

~*~

Stiles watched as Derek smoothed things over with the cops. They said since Liam only had blanks in the gun, he probably wouldn't get in too much trouble.

Scott walked over to Liam. "I want to make a name tag for you. What's your real name?"

Liam looked down and rubbed at the back of his neck. "It's Liam."

"Wait a minute," Stiles jumped in. "Your idea for a fake name was using your real first name?"

Liam nodded.

Stiles thought about it. "That's actually kind of ingenious."

Liam laughed.

Scott made the name tag. He tried to put it around Liam's neck, but Liam stepped back. "Can you wait? I want to wait until I come back, permanently."

"Sure." Scott put the name tag aside.

The cops started to take Liam away.

"Don't let the man get you down!" Isaac advised him.

Stiles leaned against the counter. "That little delinquent probably got off too easy, but he'll probably fit right at home here."

Derek sighed and walked back to his office. It was close to closing time and Stiles knew he needed to make a decision about Isaac. When he looked over at Isaac, he could tell he knew it as well.

Isaac went back to his couch.

Everyone followed him.

Erica came through the back door. Stiles wondered where she had disappeared to. She walked over to Isaac and thrust a wad of cash at his chest.

“I sold my Vespa across the street.” Erica grinned.

Isaac just stared at her with wide eyes.

Braeden took out her wallet. “Here’s some money from Jackson’s expense account.”

Suddenly everyone went into action and started pooling all of their money.

“Here’s a Bazooka Joe, for karma,” Boyd winked at him.

Allison gathered all of the money and counted it. “We’ve got about…” She whistled. “Three thousand. We need six more.”

Isaac looked touched by the gesture, but it’s still not enough. “I really appreciate this. I really do, but I think it’s time to call Peter and confess.”

Derek shook his head. “We have almost half the money. We can work something out. You said it yourself that we can work this out.”

“That was six o’clock Isaac. This Isaac is being a little more realistic. Call Peter,” Isaac insisted.

“No!” Derek said.

Stiles watched them continue to go back and forth. He loved the way they were both willing to go to bat for each other. It reminded him of him and his dad.

Once again, Stiles wished there was something he could do. He looked around at everyone. Most of the people he loved were gathered here. This place meant so much to all of them. There had to be a way to save it, and even if they couldn’t, Hale’s deserved to go out with a grand spectacle. He thought back to the idea he’d told Derek earlier. He remembered reading about impromptu concerts that used to be held at Hale’s.

He looked at the television, which was playing silently. There was a news truck outside that was covering Liam’s little stunt. Suddenly, Stiles was hit with a great idea. He flailed his arms around and got everyone’s attention. “Hold on, just give me a couple seconds.” He ran out of the room and got outside in record time.

He flagged down a reporter. He showed them his work i.d. “I work here and I saw the whole thing go down.”

“Okay. How are you doing after such a harrowing ordeal?” The male reporter asked him.

“Uh, yeah, I’ll have nightmares for days,” Stiles said in a monotone voice. “But that’s beside the point because we’re going to be having a little get together here tonight. There’s going to be music, chips, chicks, the whole nine yards. Free admission.”

The reporter tried to cut him off, but Stiles pressed on.

“It’s for a really good cause. We’re trying to save Hale Records. Come on. Damn the Man, save Hale’s!” The reporter finally pushed him away. He hoped enough people were watching and got the message.

When he walked back into the break room, everyone slowly turned around and stared at him.

He hoped that he had done the right thing. He cringed slightly as he looked over at Derek. He was prepared for him to be fuming. He was surprised when Derek only looked at him with a mixture of annoyance, surprise, and, what Stiles wasn’t sure if he was imagining it, but he saw fondness there.

Derek walked over to him. “You know we don’t have a permit for this.”

Stiles looked down and nodded. “But I think my mom would have loved this. Screw the permit.” Derek touched his arm. “You did good, Stiles.”

Stiles beamed at him.

Everyone else cheered.

~*~

Everyone was running around getting ready for the party. They managed to make flyers, which Danny was helping pass out on the street. They set up tables for some of Boyd’s music, for Danny and some of his more legal baked items, and for Scott and his paintings. There was also a sign that just read “Give me Money” and there was a huge jar on top of the table. Erica would be manning that area along with selling her buttons.

Lydia was helping Boyd and his band set-up. Allison was helping Scott pick out what paintings he should sell. Allison looked over at Lydia and smiled. She excused herself with Scott and went over to her. Allison giggled. “I can’t believe everything that’s happened today, it’s ending like this.”

“I have a really good feeling about this. Derek deserves this. We all do.” Lydia grinned.

“I want us to promise each other something,” Allison said a bit seriously.

Lydia looked at her and waited for her request.

Allison took Lydia’s hands. “No matter how much it might hurt, I want us to be honest with each other. I don’t want what happened today, to ever happen again.”

“Neither do I. I promise to be brutally honest,” Lydia vowed.

“I don’t know if you need to be brutally honest.” She and Lydia giggled. “We have to live our lives for ourselves, not because of what our parents want, or because we’re scared of becoming them.”

Lydia nodded.

Allison pulled her into a hug.

~*~

Scott had finally decided on everything he wanted to sell. He put his paintings and drawing at the table designated for him.

Allison joined him. She looked at him and smiled. “Isaac is right. You are really talented.”

Scott blushed. “Thank you.” He sighed. “I just have to apologize again.”

Allison groaned. “I swear, Scott, if you apologize one more time, I’m going to go psycho on you. You know I can do it.”

Scott laughed. “You were right about everything...I mean about us. I’m glad that we can be friends”

“Me, too.” Allison frowned. “I don’t know what I would do without you in my life.”

They hugged.

Scott pulled back and put his arm around her. “Have you figured out what you’re going to do about school?”

“Lydia and I have decided that we have to live our own lives. I can’t keep trying to live up to my parent’s expectations and live their dreams. I’m gonna go to NYU.”

Scott beamed. “I’m so happy for you, Allison. Maybe I should be fearless, too.”

“You should!” Allison laughed happily.

Scott was delighted to see her so alive and carefree.

“Scott, if there’s something, or someone, you really want, you should go for it.”

They both looked at Isaac as he stood in the middle of the store.

He knew she was right.

~*~

After they finished setting up, Boyd introduced Lydia to his band. “This is our bass player, Jordan Parrish.”

They shook hands. He smiled shyly at her and Lydia felt a little shiver go through her.

Boyd tried to get her attention. He snapped his fingers in front of her face to get her to focus on him instead of Jordan. “What?” She snapped.

“How would you like to sing in our band tonight?” Boyd asked with a smile.

He got her full attention then. “Are you serious?”

“I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t.”

Lydia felt a different sensation in the pit of her stomach. She really didn’t know if she was ready for this. She backed away slowly.

Allison caught her by the shoulders. “Lydia, did you forget we’re on the roof?”

She looked up at her dazedly. “No.” She swallowed. “Boyd wants me to sing with them.”

Allison grinned. “That’s great.”

Lydia nodded. “Right.”

Allison looked her in the eyes. “Come on, remember, we’re going to be fearless. You can do this.”

Lydia nodded with more determination. “I can do this.”

~*~

Erica smiled at Boyd. She loved watching him in his element. He hadn’t even started playing yet, but he was already getting in the zone.

Erica tentatively approached him. “I just wanted to wish you luck for tonight.”

“Thanks.”

“Boyd, I’m really sorry.” Erica wrung her hands together. “I get that you truly care about me and I’m really grateful. And about going slow…” She kissed him passionately. She pulled back slowly. “Forget about it.”

Erica vowed to herself she would try to not ignore the good things right in front of her.

~*~

When Derek saw Peter walk into the record store, he could see that his uncle was already livid. He watched everyone that was coming in and out of the store as if they had two heads.

“Why do I have the feeling I’m being royally screwed here?” Peter said as he stood in front of Derek.

“Because you are,” Derek said matter-of-factly. “Peter, there was no money in that bag I gave you earlier. One of my employees needed it.”

“Who?”

Derek didn’t say anything.

Peter looked knowingly over at Isaac. “I can take a guess.”

Isaac didn’t back away from him; instead he sauntered up to him. “Pete, I really think we need to rethink this whole Music Town idea. It stands to reason that when Music Town takes over, Derek will be out. All of my friends will be out, and it goes without saying, all the tattooed, gum chewing freaks that frequent this place will be out, too.”

“I wish it had gone without saying, but you don’t seem to shut up.”

Derek stepped between Peter and Isaac. “I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to let you take this store away from me without a fight.”

“And what are you going to do about it? You don’t have the money to stop it or the shares. Barring that, you’ll probably be too busy in jail for grand theft to serve as much of a nuisance.”

“But I will have the shares soon. I know my family and they’re going to see sense soon. They’re going to see what we did here tonight and realize that my mother’s dream doesn’t have to die. That was one of the reasons she created this place. She believed in dreams coming true. You may have forgotten that Peter, but I haven’t.”

Derek walked away with his head held high. He really believed he finally did his mother proud. When he looked over at Isaac he could see that he shared that opinion.

“I’m really proud of you, Derek. I’m glad to see that you’re fighting again.”

Derek put his arm around Isaac. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

~*~

Boyd and his band were really putting on a great show. Everyone watching looked like they were having a great time.

Isaac was so proud and happy as he spotted Lydia singing back-up. She might be one step closer to living her dream. He looked around at all of his friend’s smiling faces and he couldn’t believe this was happening after everything that had happened that day. He was so proud of how resilient they all were.

Even with everything that had happened, he considered it a perfect day. Well...not entirely perfect. He looked at Scott and Allison. They were standing together and beaming up at Lydia. He wanted to be happy for them, but he knew he had his work cut out for him.

~*~

The night was definitely a rousing success and Stiles couldn’t be happier.

Danny grabbed him and twirled him around. Stiles laughed giddily. “You’re a genius, Stiles.”

Stiles waved his head back and forth. “Well, I don’t know about genius...No, genius sounds about right.” He laughed. “I’m really starting to be hopeful about Hale’s future.”

Both Danny and Stiles jumped when Erica shouted. She ran over to them with the big jar of money. “We did it! We got the money we need!”

Stiles looked from Danny to Erica to the jar of money. They all whooped and jumped into the air. They each kissed the jar.

They rushed off to find Isaac or Derek. They found Isaac by the large crowd watching Boyd’s performance.

“We saved your ass!” Stiles pumped his fist in the air.

“What?” Isaac screamed - partly in confusion and partly because he could barely hear over the roar of the crowd and the music.

Stiles showed him the jar of money. “It’s all there.”

Isaac was speechless.

Stiles looked at Danny and Erica and back at Isaac. “We think you should do the honors and tell Derek.”

~*~

Derek was startled when he saw his sister Cora drive up in the parking lot. She got out of her car and rushed over. “What are you doing here?”

“I heard about the party on the news and had to come and see for myself.” She looked around at everything and smiled. “Mom would have thought this was awesome.”

Derek chuckled. “Yeah.”

Cora sighed. “I’m really sorry, Derek. I think we all gave up too soon. We all know how full of shit Peter is, but he’s still really convincing.”

 

“Do you mean that?” Derek asked a bit hesitantly.

Cora nodded. “Yeah. You have my support for whatever you want to do.”

Derek wrapped her up in a bear hug.

“Derek!”

Derek whirled around and saw Isaac, Stiles, Erica, and Danny run toward him.

“Derek, we have the money. It’s all there.” Isaac beamed at him.

Derek looked up at the sky momentarily. He couldn’t help feeling like his mother had something to do with this. He hugged Isaac, Erica, and even Danny. He paused awkwardly before giving Stiles a brief hug.

They all ran into the store.

Derek had to laugh as he watched Peter struggle at the register. He walked around the side of the counter and shoved the jar of money into Peter’s chest. “All nine thousand. Count it if you need to.”

Peter just gave him a withering look.

Cora leaned against the counter. “I changed my mind about selling the store. I can also tell you that David and Laura are with me as well.”

Peter frowned. “Laura? My own daughter turned against me?” He sighed. “I knew no good could come from having children.”

Derek and Cora rolled their eyes.

Peter held up his hands. “You know what, I give up. If you want my shares, Derek, you can have them - really cheap.”

Derek grinned. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.” Derek turned and walked away. “Asshole.”

He looked over his shoulder and laughed when he saw Peter fighting with someone over the jar of money.

~*~

Lydia was so glad she let Allison and Boyd convince her to do this. She was having a ball up on stage. She’s glad the spotlight isn’t truly on her. The bassist Jordan kept giving her flirty looks and that was just increasing her fun.

In the middle of his song “Sugar High” Boyd suddenly stopped singing. He turned to Lydia and gestured for her to take the lead. She paused. She thought about telling him no flat out, but she looked down and saw Scott, Allison, and Stiles cheering for her loudly.

She tentatively walked up to the mic. She knew the song well, so she wasn’t worried about that. At first, she flubbed a line, but then her confidence started to take over. She channeled the crowd’s energy and really got into it. Soon, she’s dancing along and was belting out the song like she was born to be up there. She really felt like she was.

At the end, the audience erupted with applause. She shared a smile with her friends and with Jordan. She didn’t think she could be happier and then she spotted a familiar figure in the crowd. Jackson had on a hat and not at all inconspicuous sunglasses. He smiled at her and it kind of felt like her victory was complete.

~*~

Scott was ecstatic for Lydia. She deserved this. Allison ran up to join Lydia and Scott laughed as he watched them dance together. He was happy they were able to patch things up. Not everything was solved, but things were good.

As he looked around, he realized that something - someone - was missing. Isaac needed to be there to make this moment complete. He searched for him outside. When he looked up, he saw him on the roof.

As he was heading over he saw Stiles. He went over to him and leaned in to yell. “You need to make your move with Derek.”

Stiles shook his head. “What? I already told him how I feel. Why can’t he make a move?”

“This is Derek we’re talking about. If you don’t take your chance, you might regret it.” He patted Stiles on the shoulder. He was about to take his own advice.

~*~

Stiles hovered outside Derek’s office. He is nervous and petrified over what he was contemplating. He finally got up enough nerve to pull the door open roughly.

Derek turned around and gaped at him.

Stiles marched over, grabbed Derek’s face, and kissed him with everything he had. He was gratified when he felt Derek respond. He pulled back breathless. “How’s that for a grown-up move?”

Derek suddenly turned him and pinned him to the wall.

For a moment, Stiles feared for his life, while still being turned on.

“That was pretty good. But this is better.”

Stiles squeaked when Derek kissed him again. Soon they both got into it. Stiles gripped Derek’s shoulders and Derek grabbed a handful of Stiles’ shirt and bunched it up as he pulled Stiles closer.

When they parted for air, Stiles was impressed that Derek’s pupils were blown wide.

“I guess I can see you as a man now,” Derek panted.

Stiles chuckled. “A sexy man?”

Derek narrowed his eyes, but then a slow grin spread on his face. “A little sexy, yeah.”

“Alright! This is awesome. I can’t wait to tell Scott…”

Derek raised an eyebrow up.

“That can wait, that can wait. More kissing.” He kissed him again. He ended up sliding down the wall and took Derek with him.

~*~

As Scott made his way to the roof, he couldn’t believe that he was about to do this. It took him so long to figure out what he felt for Isaac and now he’s about to tell him and he felt an overwhelming pit of nerves in his stomach, but by the time he made it to the roof, he had started to feel excited. He knew that this was right and it would change everything, but he wasn’t scared anymore.

Isaac was looking at the sign. It looked like he finally got it to work. He had a smile on his face and Scott watched him for a moment. He felt warm all over just from looking at Isaac’s smile.

He headed over to Isaac. He really didn’t know what he wanted to say first.

Isaac looked over at him and cocked his head to the side.

Scott gulped. “I’m an idiot.” Okay, he definitely hadn’t planned on opening with that.

Isaac’s nose crinkled and he had a question in his eyes, but he didn’t say anything.

“You were right all along. I shouldn’t keep putting off starting my life. I’m a good artist and I want to have a future at it, so I’m going to apply to art school.”

Isaac clapped and smiled. “That’s great, Scott.”

“But I want to apply somewhere close by,” Scott added.

“Because of your mom?”

“No, because of you.”

Isaac’s eyes widened.

Scott knew he had to get this out now. “I’ve been too scared to apply to art school, but I’ve also been too scared to really see what I should have known for a long time.” Scott wrung his hands. “You said that I make your life better. Isaac, I feel the same way about you.”

There’s a small smile on Isaac’s face, but he looked hesitant.

“You know my feelings for Allison…”Scott started.

“Uh, Scott I’ll remind you that we are on a roof,” Isaac teased.

Scott laughed. “I know you don’t want to hear it, but I did...I do love Allison.”

Isaac looked unbearably sad. Scott hated that, but he knew it would get better.

“But it’s not the kind of love that I feel for you.”

Isaac slowly looked up.

“What I feel for you is bigger than anything I’ve ever felt. It’s so different than anything else I have with anyone.” Scott let out a shaky breath. This was so much harder than he thought it would be. He closed the gap between him and Isaac. “Allison said that she thought love was the other person making your life better and always thinking about the other person and not feeling like your day has started until you talk to the other person. That’s how I feel about you, but it’s so much more than that, too. Just seeing you smile makes me smile. You understand me better than anyone. You believe in me and make me believe in myself. I think if I didn’t have you in my life, I would be so freaking lost.”

Isaac opened his mouth, but didn’t seem to be able to say whatever it was in his head. Scott was grateful for that because he wasn’t quite finished and needed to get this all out.

“I almost feel like love is too small a word to describe what I feel for you, but I do, I love you. I know it now and I don’t want it to be too late because I’m so in love with you.”

A garbled sound came out of Isaac’s mouth that in no way resembled words.

“I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen you speechless. It’s kind of bad timing.” Scott chuckled softly.

Isaac stared at him.

Scott was really starting to sweat it out now. “Well, are you going to say something or-”

Isaac kissed him.

He slowly pulled away and gazed into his eyes. “Good answer?”

Scott nodded his head and smiled wide. “Definitely.”

Isaac grinned and stroked his thumb softly against Scott’s cheek before he pulled him into another kiss.

Scott’s not sure who deepened the kiss, but didn’t care when he felt Isaac’s tongue stroke the roof of his mouth. He moaned and ran his hands through Isaac’s soft hair as he felt Isaac wrap his arms around him and crush Scott to him.

He’s not sure how long they’re tangled up in each other, but when the need for air became too great they separated. That’s when they noticed the sound of music. They reluctantly pulled apart and noticed all of their friends gathered together on the roof.

No one was really paying attention to them. Everyone was just enjoying each other’s company. Some were just talking, others laughing together and sharing a drink.

Scott felt an enormous swell of love for all of them and dragged Isaac over as everyone began to dance. They somehow got Derek to dance, which Scott never thought he’d see in his lifetime.

Another thing he never thought he’d see in his lifetime was Derek and Stiles making googly-eyes at each other. At his soonest opportunity, Scott cornered Stiles.

“What is going on?”

Stiles tried to play coy. “Going on? With what?”

Scott playfully shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know? How about Derek undressing you with his eyes?”

“Is he?” Stiles grinned widely. “He totally is!”

“What happened?”

“Oh, we just made out a little...I mean, a lot.”

Scott and Stiles started jumping around like maniacs.

They stopped and slowly look around. Derek was looking at them as if he was considering having their IQs tested. Stiles just shrugged and blew him a kiss. Derek rolled his eyes.

Scott threw back his head and laughed.

Stiles could barely contain his glee as he looked at Scott. “I can’t believe this has happened. I know this isn’t how I imagined my day ending.”

“Me, either.” Scott looked over at Isaac and smiled. “It’s so much better.”

“Awww.” Stiles smashed his cheeks together.

Scott batted his hands away with a good-natured laugh.

“And I have even more good news,” Scott announced.

“Like what?”

“I’ve decided to apply to art school.”

“That’s great news.” Stiles beamed at him. “I’m really glad that you’re happy, Scott.”

“Even if me being happy includes being with Isaac?” Scott asked somewhat nervously.

Stiles sucked in a breath. “I swear if you tell Isaac this I will always deny having said it, but I guess Isaac isn’t an altogether terrible person.”

“Wow, what a huge compliment.” Scott grinned.

“Coming from me it is.”

“I know.” Scott nodded. “So do you think-”

“No,” Stiles interrupted.

“I didn’t even finish.”

“You were going to ask if Derek and I would double date with you and Isaac and I don’t think that will happen in this lifetime. You know Derek doesn’t do traditional dating,” Stiles explained.

“So, what do you expect to be doing?”

Stiles just raised an eyebrow.

It took Scott a moment and then he wrinkled his nose. “Eww!” He shook his head. “You can’t just have sex and that’s it.”

“Why not?” Stiles shrugged one shoulder. He looked upward and smiled. “I predict a lot of time spent in the bedroom...the shower...the office…”

Scott interrupted. “Oh, come on, not the office. I don’t want to have to picture you two going at it while I’m working.”

“Sorry, Scott. You’re the one who told me to go for it.” Stiles put his arm around him and patted Scott’s chest. “But, since you’re my best friend, I’ll make you a promise. We will always lock the door.”

Scott shook his head, but then shrugged. He supposed it was the best he could hope for.

~*~

Every time he thought he would stop, Isaac would picture it in his head, and his shoulders would start to shake.

Derek pinched the bridge of his nose. “Isaac, would you stop?”

It took Isaac a moment before he stopped giggling. He held his stomach. “I’m sorry. I just can’t stop picturing it. It’s not my fault you went into such graphic detail.”

Derek threw his hand up. “All I said was Stiles and I kissed.”

Isaac began to laugh again.

Derek groaned. “Why are you laughing? You only had to hear about Stiles and me. When we walked up here you and Scott looked like you were trying to meld your faces together.”

“Yes, but I was kissing Scott. You were kissing Stiles. I mean, Stiles, Derek - Stiles.

Derek rolled his eyes.

Isaac’s laughter trailed off. “Look, all kidding aside, I’m really happy that you’re happy, even if it’s with Stiles. It could be good for you.”

“Maybe. I’m just...I don’t know what I’m doing.” Derek sounded uncertain.

“Are you happy?” Isaac knocked his shoulder into Derek.

“Yeah.” Derek grinned.

If he didn’t know any better, he would have sworn Derek was blushing. It was the weirdest thing and Isaac wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to it, but Isaac had no room to judge. He could feel his face split in two as he looked at Scott and when Scott looked back at him, he could swear he was literally floating.

“I’m happy for you, too,” Derek said as he watched Isaac looking at Scott.

“Everything worked out.” Isaac’s smile turned wicked. “You know what this means, right?”

Derek shook his head.

“Maybe taking the money to Vegas wasn’t such a bad idea after all.”

Derek glared at him with a look that would curdle milk, but Isaac insisted on pushing it.

“I’m waiting for my thank you,” Isaac said with a widening grin.

Isaac heard a low growl and knew he had about two seconds before he would be disemboweled. He ran off just in time as Derek lunged after him.